Friday 9 December 2016

Toure brace reminds Guardiola he can be agent of change

Crystal Palace 1 Manchester City 2

Dominic Fifield

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

Crystal Palace's Jason Puncheon in action against Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne during the match at Selhurst Park. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Crystal Palace's Jason Puncheon in action against Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne during the match at Selhurst Park. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Pep Guardiola can presumably expect a phone call this week from Yaya Toure's agent, his bête noire Dimitri Seluk, demanding a pay rise for his client. After all those much publicised "misunderstandings in the past" - for which the player had recently, if belatedly, apologised - Toure is restored to the fray and contributing once again. Here, he was decisive.

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It was his two goals which condemned Crystal Palace to yet another defeat, a fifth in succession, while hoisting Manchester City back on to the shoulder of the league leaders. A fit and focused Toure suddenly feels a real asset in a title pursuit, a player to be harnessed where, only a few weeks ago, he had felt a faded memory of a bygone era. Guardiola will never see eye-to-eye with the unrepentant Seluk, but there is talent in the player into which he can tap. City will be stronger for his return.

Manchester City's Yaya Toure celebrates scoring the deciding goal against Crystal Palace/ Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Manchester City's Yaya Toure celebrates scoring the deciding goal against Crystal Palace/ Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

It had been the selection of the old guard, Toure accompanied by Vincent Kompany in the starting lineup, which drew the focus in the build-up to this game. Alan Pardew, the Palace manager, described the pair as "giants", as their glittering careers at City would attest, though, on the quiet he must have spied an opportunity for his quicker players to tear at rusty opponents.

There were chances for Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha to do just that, but Kompany would not see out the opening period, the centre-half clattered inadvertently by City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo as he leapt into an aerial challenge. The 30-year-old played on for seven minutes before sinking back to his haunches and complaining of blurred vision. He was duly replaced by Pablo Zabaleta. Each comeback from injury seems to be choked by another niggle, strain or knock these days, and Kompany cut a miserable figure shuffling back to the dressing-room.

Toure would not depart quite so quietly. The midfielder had sauntered on the periphery of a patchy contest, in which Palace matched the visitors for long periods, until moments after Kompany's exit. The hosts had always felt vulnerable when Raheem Sterling tested Martin Kelly, an unconvincing makeshift left-back, though he was left rather exposed by indecision from James McArthur and a poorly directed pass from Andros Townsend.

Sterling was closing in when Kelly blindly scuffed his pass in-field to surrender possession to Kevin de Bruyne on the edge of the box. City teased the home defence for a brief period thereafter, patiently pulling markers out of position, before Touré swapped passes with Nolito and spat away a shot which flicked up from James Tomkins and into the net.

Crystal Palace's Connor Wickham celebrates scoring their goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters
Crystal Palace's Connor Wickham celebrates scoring their goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

All Palace's industry felt undone by that 39th-minute reward, the Ivorian's first in the league since March. This was his first domestic start of season, his peace apparently now made with Guardiola after all those outbursts from his agent. With this evidence there will be occasions when he can still contribute to this City team, particularly in matches where results have to be ground out. This felt like such a contest, particularly once Palace stirred, full of urgency at the start of the second period.

Zaha, isolating Aleksandar Kolarov, was a constant nuisance - though it was the substitute, Connor Wickham, who would provide the real bite. City were still anguished that Sergio Aguero's flicked attempt had been hacked from the goal-line by Joel Ward when Palace broke at pace in the 66th minute, with Zaha feeding the substitute. Wickham eked space from a hesitant Zabaleta before rasping a shot through Bravo's weak attempt to block at his post.

Parity stung City back into life, their pressure oppressive thereafter, though there was still no excusing the ease at which they edged back ahead. De Bruyne's corner was admittedly clever, slid into the six-yard box with Palace braced to repel an aerial assault, but to leave Toure unmarked and alone in front of goal felt unforgivable. The midfielder tapped into the empty net, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey having been drawn to the near post, and condemned Palace to their latest loss in the process.

There had been other sombre moments to this occasion. The minute's silence prior to kick-off was immaculately observed in memory of the seven people who lost their lives in the tram derailment in Croydon earlier this month. Two of their number, Dane Chinnery and Philip Seary, were Palace supporters, with the applause which erupted from all corners of the ground in the 19th and 57th minutes marking their respective ages.

This community has suffered over the last 10 days in the aftermath of that accident. (Observer)

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