Final: Crystal Palace 2 - Manchester City 1
The game started with an excellent move by CP in which Kelly overlapped down left and whipped a ball back post. Zaha arrived a bit late and missed a great chance in the first minute. It was an example of how Pardew's teams attack with lighting pace. For most of the first half, CP was content with keeping a low defensive block and engaging City in their own half. Then CP would look to counter attack quickly, utilizing the tremendous pace in Bolasie and Zaha. Also, when they did look forward I was extremely impressed with center-forward Murray's ability to play with his back to goal. He was continually successful at linking up with CP midfielders or drawing a foul in which CP could slow the game down and create a chance from a direct set-piece. People might be critical of CP approach to the game and label it as an 'away game' mentality but I disagree and respect Pardew's pragmatism. CP played to their strength superbly and utilized the pace of Zaha, Bolasie, and Puncheon well. You have to give a lot of credit to CP defensive discipline and effort. It is something that is so easy to overlook in coaching, but discipline and effort to put back pressure on an opposition from your front men is never just a given. Zaha was especially excellent working back helping his fullback defensively. It would be very naive to say that Zaha didn’t have defensive responsibilities because Silva operated centrally. When City fullbacks pushed on, Zaha worked back to double down. In attack for City, I don’t think it is a problem that Silva and Navas come inside to operate. This allows Clichy and Sagna to push on high and wide on the touch-line, so they don’t lose their attacking width. For me, the problem going forward was their desire to move the ball quickly. Against a 10 man defensive block the ball must constantly be moved 1-2 touch, otherwise they are able to keep their shape, double down out wide, and are able to block shots in front of goal. Toure, Fernandinho, and Silva just did not operate at an urgent enough tempo for me. As a result most of their chances were half-chances and not great chances. City did do though terrific jobs of immediately winning ball back in Palace half after losing it. This kept constant pressure on Palace, but again they didn’t make the most of this constant possession in Palace half because they didn’t operate at a quick enough tempo. When tempo is slow, you will never be dangerous as you could be.
Poor defending by City was the reason why they went into half down by one. As City pushed out they lost the header at top of box and then lost both runners into the box. This moment in lack of marking cost City. Often in the Premier League, people talk about how the margin of victory is tiny. Well today, it was that moment of poor defending. The margin was also tiny though because City was unlucky not to get both Aguero’s goal in first and a handball pk in second half. But it is not like City had to worry about defending constantly all game. They didn’t that one set piece and it hurt big time. That’s what defines high-level football.
The second half was a similar tale to the first in my opinion. City were too often slow to pull the trigger and too slow to move the ball into threatening areas. I'd love to see Aguero and Silva constantly shooting. Honestly, they should look to shoot first more often than not. However, too often both of them take a couple dribbles, think about shooting, and then pass. The last moral of the story for me is to score when you’re on top of the game. The higher the level of football you play, the more vital this is. If you don’t seize the momentum it will end costly. It will be costly no doubt because higher level teams are good enough to sneak one when you can’t capitalize.
This result inevitably ends City's hopes for meaningful success this season. Looking to next year, it will be interesting to see their answers to these questions: 1.) Will their lethargic possession continue? 2.) How will their style of play change? 3.) What personnel can change it?