Palace unable to be anything more than bystanders in Man City's relentless march to another title
Crystal Palace (0) 0
Manchester City (0) 2 Aguero 56, Torres 58
The Eagles did their best to make life difficult for champions-elect Man City but two quickfire goals at the start of the second half put paid to ambitions of an upset.
Man City were far from their best and failed to get a shot on target in the first half, offering hopes for Palace that they might be able to prolong the frustration.
But once Sergio Aguero had breached the home side’s defence, there was little doubt that the points would be heading back north. City are all but there now, when it comes to the Premier League crown.
The visitors' starting line-up should have been a source of encouragement for Roy Hodgson’s men. This fixture coming in between two titanic Champions League clashes with PSG at the semi-final stage, it was no real surprise that Pep Guardiola opted to keep Walker, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Dias and Foden away from the fray.
Even with a title to chase down, that second leg against the Parisians at the Etihad on Tuesday looms large. They have history in their sights and margin for error in the league, after all.
But even without the full-throttle, irresistible version of Man City, the predictable default positions were soon in place, with the Eagles sitting deep and City progressively going through the gears and finding their range.
Raheem Sterling tied Palace defenders in a knot after getting on the end of Aymeric Laporte’s chip into the inside-left channel and though the final shot slid wide, the warning was there.
Later in the half, Gabriel Jesus had the ball in the net but was flagged offside after volleying home an angled cross from Fernandinho, while Ferran Torres flashed a shot wide from an acute angle on the right.
Palace took a while to pose any real threat but one fine move down the right involving Andros Townsend and Joel Ward ended with Christian Benteke spinning onto a loose ball, forcing a save at his near post from Ederson.
Eberechi Eze also skewed wide after finding a yard of space inside the area thanks to good work from Jairo Riedewald as the Eagles got forward in numbers for once and for all their possession, City struggled to trouble Vicente Guaita.
However, the narrative changed soon after the restart.
It needed Scott Dann’s clearing header from under his own bar to deny Jesus a free header, but the reprieve was short-lived as, in the very next attack, Benjamin Mendy’s ball into space was collected in his stride by Aguero and smashed imperiously into the roof of the net.
And just 83 seconds later, it was 2-0 and game over when Torres picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area to fire low beyond Guaita’s right hand.
It looked an entirely different game after that. Tails up, Sterling glided into the danger zone and smacked a low shot against a post, Benteke had to get back to block a close-range effort from Laporte.
Joao Cancelo clipped just over after Torres’ backheel had opened up the target invitingly. Sterling bent another effort just wide.
Aguero, enjoying himself on what was a rare start in his swansong season at City, almost beat Guaita at his near post. For City, it hardly mattered that they could not quite force a third goal.
Eagles: (4-3-3) Guaita – Ward, Kouyate, Dann, Mitchell – Riedewald (Schlupp 60), Milivojevic, Eze – Townsend (Ayew 82), Benteke (Mateta 67), Zaha. Subs not used: Butland, Van Aanholt, McCarthy, Batshuayi, Cahill, Kelly
Citizens: (4-4-1-1) Ederson – Cancelo, Ake, Laporte, Mendy – Torres, Fernandinho (Zinchenko 67), Rodri, Sterling – Aguero – Gabriel Jesus. Subs not used: Steffen, Walker, Dias, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Silva, Mahrez, Foden