Pep Guardiola’s 200th Premier League match leading Manchester City was ruined by a sparkling show of power and effervescence from Wilfried Zaha that gave Patrick Vieira, the returning alumnus, the sweetest of victories as Crystal Palace manager.
Zaha scored the first after six minutes, helped create Conor Gallagher’s late clincher and generally terrorised Rúben Dias and Aymeric Laporte, causing the latter to be sent off during a fractious end to the first half.
If the defender deserved his punishment for wrestling Zaha to the turf as last man, City rallied impressively after the break but could not find an equaliser. It meant that the champions lost a second league game of the season and a first at home since May, leaving Guardiola’s count at 146 wins and 29 defeats from his double century.
For the opening goal Zaha nicked the ball from a dithering Laporte, swapped passes with Gallagher and, as the angle closed, beat Ederson to his left, the goalkeeper perhaps defeated by a bobble. This hushed the crowd, who had witnessed the concession of a league goal for the first time this term, with 456 minutes in total passing since Chelsea scored here.
City’s response was expected: a blue swarm that hustled for possession, with Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva moving Palace around. One sequence ended in João Cancelo claiming City’s first corner and when this dropped in the area Rodri hit the ball into Vicente Guaita’s midriff.
Palace, led by James McArthur and Cheikhou Kouyaté, were quick to press and smother City at source. Another key tactic was to feed Zaha with a mid-range ball that tested the defensive smarts of Dias, who tried to match up with him. Guardiola’s men struggled throughout to find solutions to these clever ploys from Vieira.
Boos became the contest’s soundtrack. These were from City enthusiasts who, despite only 30 minutes having passed, suggested Palace were time-wasting – Guardiola would later cite the tactic.
When Grealish led a stampede forward, the No 10 fed Jesus, who shot into a diving Marc Guéhi before, eventually, Palace were awarded a goal-kick. Cue more jeers. Then came groans, as a passage of slick football was spoiled by Cancelo lifting a diagonal into the seats behind Guaita.
A chief concern for Guardiola was how his side’s high line was pierced. Odsonne Édouard did so with a pass that left Dias marooned and Zaha skating towards Ederson, City saved by an offside flag. Nothing, though, could help Laporte the next time Zaha burst forward as the centre-back took him down. Andre Marriner raised the red card, VAR supported the referee.
When the match restarted, City diced with truly losing the plot: Silva chopped down that man again – Zaha – and was booked; on half-time, Ederson followed for further contretemps. As the players wandered off for the interval, Silva was spied putting a sarcastic hand on the assistant referee by the benches.
Palace began the second half with a gilded chance of defeating the 10 men, now configured in a 3-3-3. But the champions were not giving way easily: Rodri soon blasted over then, after Grealish claimed a corner, the ball broke to Foden, whose cross skidded across the area.
Foden was about to see a sublime assist chalked off for a marginal offside. John Stones, who had just come on for De Bruyne, chipped to the midfielder, whose instant control and precise parabola found Jesus, who finished before VAR intervened.
In this invigorating spectacle Jordan Ayew spurned a close-range chance before Ederson beat away a fierce Gallagher shot at the near post. When Walker sprayed the ball wildly over this suggested it was Palace’s day.
It was: Gallagher’s finish, in off a post, sealing it, after cute Zaha footwork. Vieira deserves much credit for the display. On this showing he may return in future – to become City’s manager.