Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City: 6 Things We Learned
What a difference a day makes.
Before the sun came up over Selhurst Park, Manchester City were effectively dead men walking in the Premier League title race. Liverpool had one hand on the Premier League trophy and could grip it firmly with the second with even a draw against Chelsea at Anfield.
Meanwhile, City faced a thorny tumble with a Crystal Palace side that had won five straight league matches.
City also had to put aside the ugly truth that they had never beaten a side managed by Palace boss Tony Pulis in a Premier League match away from the Etihad.
Truly it is always darkest just before dawn, because once the sun spread over the United Kingdom, everything broke for the Sky Blues.
Here are six things we learned from Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City.
City's Penchant for Scoring Early Goals Continues to Shock and Awe
In a sports movie full of great moments, one of the best exchanges in The Natural comes toward the end when Robert Redford's Roy Hobbs surprises Wilford Brimley's Pop Fisher as Pop is ruminating about how he never should have become a baseball manager.
Thinking that Hobbs is out for the season and that the season is thus over, Pop tells his bench coach that with his seemingly lost playoff winnings he would have "walked away from baseball and I'd have bought a farm."
Then Hobbs interrupts him. "Nothing like a farm. Nothing like being around animals, fixing things. There's nothing like being in the field with the corn and the winter wheat. The greenest stuff you ever saw," Hobbs blithely chimes in. And it all works out fine for Hobbs and Pop in the end.
Well, when a football club walks into a hostile park with the locals in a frenzied froth and the Premier League title once again hanging in the balance, there is nothing like an early goal.
Yaya Toure's chip pass to Edin Dzeko in the fourth minute could not have been delivered better by an American football quarterback's arm. Dzeko headed confidently home, and City had the goal they needed to silence Palace's fervent supporters.
Yaya Toure Is a One-Man Wrecking Machine
"Inspired by true events on movie screens, I am a one man wrecking machine," sang Guster.
Football is the ultimate team sport. If all 11 men are not pulling in the same direction, there is normally little hope of success.
Occasionally, though, the 11 are lifted and defined by the transcendent effort of one. Which is what happened to Manchester City against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Yaya Toure was not even guaranteed to play against Palace earlier in the week. There was hope that Toure could recover from the knee injury he sustained at Anfield a little while back, but there were no guarantees.
Even after selecting Toure for his XI at Palace, City manager Manuel Pellegrini had to be wondering whether Toure would be at full strength—and whether the Ivorian could go for 90 minutes.
Toure answered all questions about his fitness with his sparkling play. His assist on Edin Dzeko's opening goal was beautifully placed.
But Toure's goal (City's second) was highlight reel stuff that left even neutrals slack-jawed in admiration.
Toure shrugged off a Crystal Palace defender and curled a left-footed wonder strike into the netting behind Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni.
Sides with championship hopes rely on their top players to play their best in the biggest moments. Toure delivered with flourish and resolve for City at Selhurst Park.
Tony Pulis Knows Only One Way
Crystal Palace were no doubt discouraged to head to the changing room at the interval down two goals. None of the match plans devised by Palace manager Tony Pulis accounted for that kind of deficit.
So you had to expect that Palace would come out of the break pouring players forward and trying to shake Manchester City's confidence with an early second-half goal. Or two.
But tigers do not change their stripes, and Premier League managers do not abandon what works, even if it is not working on a given day.
NBC Sports Network commenter (and Everton goalkeeper) Tim Howard remarked during the broadcast that even down two goals, Palace were keeping their shape and their discipline.
Liverpool fans hoping for a Palace result were not going to get much help from Pulis, who was never going to risk a strafing at home by ordering his side to play in a manner with which they are not familiar.
If there is such a thing as a comfortable road win, City secured it at Selhurst Park with an assist from the conservative Pulis.
Manchester City's Traveling Defensive Jitters Were Gone for at Least One Day
Manchester City hemorrhaged a bucket full of points with poor defensive displays away from Manchester earlier this season.
City will be heartened by the fact that their victory over Crystal Palace was defined as much by their defensive discipline and will as by their early offensive fireworks.
Maligned players like centre-back Martin Demichelis and holding midfielder Javi Garcia were unspectacular to watch. But City don't need them to be spectacular. They just need such players to keep the enemy and the ball away from Joe Hart's goal.
City's defensive specialists turned all the necessary screws in the second half against Crystal Palace.
Goal Difference, Again?
Goal difference is one of those statistics that is wholly insignificant until it means everything. Details are available in the final Premier League table of the 2011-12 Premier League season.
Having won a title on goal difference, Manchester City know all about what it means. City's result today, coupled with Chelsea's two-goal victory over Liverpool, put City's goal difference even further beyond Liverpool's reach.
City gained four goals in the difference statistic on the day. Little details, such as Willian's walk of the ball into Liverpool's goal to double Chelsea's eventual winning margin, really do matter.
Liverpool are now eight goals behind City's difference with only two more matches to play. If City can somehow tie Liverpool on points in the table, they just might win a second Premier League crown on goal difference.
Out of the Frying Pan and into the Deep Fryer for City
After Stamford Bridge and Anfield, Manchester City's leading house of horrors is Goodison Park.
In a related development, City's final road match of the season is at Everton next week.
The dominoes have fallen City's way in that regard, as well. Everton's Champions League pursuit was slew-footed by two own goals against Southampton this weekend.
Really, though, does any City fan think any of that matters where a City visit to Goodison Park is concerned?
Everton have put the wrench in City's machinery too many times in recent years, especially on Merseyside, for City to feel anything but dread and fear about their next match.
It projects to be a long week for City supporters fretting and stewing over that match.