John Stones scored his first Premier League goals for Manchester City as Pep Guardiola’s side climbed to second with a convincing 4-0 win over Crystal Palace at the Etihad.
Stones had gone 93 Premier League games without a goal for Man City, but the in-form centre-back produced two very tidy finishes in his 94th league appearance for the club to help put away a spirited but thoroughly outplayed Palace team.
City largely dominated the first half, but it took a moment of world-class quality to unlock Palace’s packed defence, when Kevin de Bruyne’s delightful cross with the outside of his boot put it on a plate for Stones to head home.
And the hosts picked up where they left off after the break, completely dominating the game and converting that pressure through a curling strike from range by Ilkay Gundogan and a second penalty-box finish from Stones, before Raheem Sterling capped off a lively individual display with a peach of a free-kick late on.
The result sees City leapfrog Spurs, Liverpool and Leicester in the Premier League table, with Guardiola’s side now just two points behind league leaders Manchester United and with a game in hand over the rest of that top five.
Palace’s first loss in four league games sees them stay 13th in the table, yet Hodgson’s team remain closer to the Champions League spots than the relegation zone.
Talking Point – Who can stop City’s title charge?
Man City went into this game as favourites for the Premier League title with the bookmakers, and those odds will only have shortened after a classy performance and a win that sends them second in the table with a game in hand over the rest of the top five. The fact that they've got this far without a single league goal from Sergio Aguero should be even more worrying for their rivals - what will City look like when Aguero returns?!
Slowly and quietly, Guardiola’s side have built their season's momentum up, and on current evidence they look the best-equipped squad in the league to take the title. It’s hardly a surprise when you break it down: City have been one of the clear top two sides in the league in recent years, plus they have a squad with a level of depth that even the rest of the league’s super-rich clubs can’t compete with. They have all the tools required to negotiate this unusual and demanding season.
All of the smart money will be on City taking back the title, but it’s been a strange season so let’s not write off another fluctuation in form just yet.
John Stones of Manchester City celebrates scoring their first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium
Image credit: Getty Images
Man of the Match – Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
The Man City man is so consistently excellent that it’s sometimes easy to take his input to games for granted. Against Palace for example many might point to the outstanding performance of Gundogan as the stand-out individual display, and the German certainly was excellent throughout. And two-goal hero John Stones also put in a strong case for the Man of the Match award with a composed performance alongside his brace.
But De Bruyne was the best player on the pitch, pulling the strings as he so often does for City, and producing the moment of magic that set City on their path to victory with that sumptuous cross to tee up Stones.
It was telling that when the third goal went in Guardiola immediately looked to give De Bruyne a rest. The City manager knows just how crucial this player is to the club’s fortunes this season.
Man City: Ederson 6; Walker 6, Stones 8, Dias 7, Zinchenko 6; De Bruyne 9, Fernandinho 7, Gündogan 8; Sterling 7, Jesus 7, Bernardo Silva 6. Subs: Foden 6, Cancelo 6, Torres 6.
Crystal Palace: Guaita 6; Ward 7, Tomkins 7, Cahill 7, Mitchell 7; Eze 6, Milivojevic 6, McCarthy 6, McArthur 6; Townsend 6, Ayew 7. Subs: Riedewald 6, Batshuayi 6.
Guardiola: City players 'not concerned' with being title contenders
26’ GOAL! – City break the deadlock and it’s John Stones who’s got it. The centre-back stayed up after a corner was only half cleared by Palace, and he nods home an absolutely delicious cross from Kevin de Bruyne. The ball in was perfect, curled with the outside of De Bruyne’s boot right into the perfect place for Stones to finish. 1-0.
57’ GOAL! – What a peach that is! Ilkay Gundogan takes advantage of some overplaying on the edge of the Palace box by Andros Townsend, robs the wide man of possession and then bends a beauty of a shot into the top corner. 2-0.
68’ GOAL! – It took him years to break his Man City duck, but now John Stones has two in an evening as he drills home a rebound through a crowd of bodies. It had taken a great save to deny Stones’ defensive counterpart Dias with the initial shot, but Guaita had no chance with the follow-up. 3-0 and it’s surely game over.
88’ GOAL! – That is really nice from Raheem Sterling! He wins City a free-kick right on the edge of the box and takes it himself, curling a gem of a strike right into the far top corner to make it 4-0.
Stats and Facts
- Kevin de Bruyne’s assist for Stones' opener was his 100th for Manchester City in all competitions.
- Since his debut for Man City in 2015, De Bruyne has contributed more assists than any other player for a Premier League club. Considerably more. In fact, the next best player is 32 assists behind De Bruyne in that time (Christian Eriksen on 68).
- John Stones’ goals were not only his first for Manchester City but also only the second and third of his entire Premier League career (171 games). The other came against Manchester United for Everton in 2015.
- Victory saw City avoid a run of three straight home games against Palace without a win, meaning Guardiola has still not gone winless at the Etihad in three straight games against any opposition.