A City team led by Mark Hughes could see the blue half of Manchester top of the Premier League table just in time for Christmas.
In a bizarre twist of fate, the ex-Manchester City manager could help put his former employers in pole position to retain their title – five years and three days after he was unceremoniously sacked by the Etihad outfit.
If Hughes’ Stoke City can repeat last season’s shock win over Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium on Monday night, it will give Manuel Pellegrini’s men the edge in the two-horse race with Jose Mourinho’s side.
Despite being deprived of all of their senior strikers, Manchester City still scored three goals to overcome a resolute Crystal Palace and go level on 39 points with Chelsea – just one goal shy of hitting the pinnacle of the PL.
With Aguero, Dzeko and Jovetic consigned to the stands with injuries, it fell to a Spanish wizard to conjure up the win, on a day of magical milestones for Merlin the Magician – David Silva.
On this, his 200th appearance for Manchester City, Silva received a special award to mark his achievement as the club’s all-time international appearance record holder.
His 49 games for Spain since joining City from Valencia in the summer of 2010 surpassed the 48 played by Colin Bell for England, so it was fitting that ‘Colin The King’ made the presentation to ‘El Mago’.
And as if that little lot wasn’t enough, the man from the Canaries downed the Eagles from London with a second half brace to effectively secure the three points.
Sublime Silva took the Man of the Match honours as he set the rhythm for a City side that could easily have been out of tune without a conventional forward line.
His 49th minute opening goal – deflected off Palace defender Scott Dann – was greeted with relief by the near capacity 45,302 crowd (that’s tickets sold rather than bums on seats) as City went about shattering Neil Warnock’s family Crystal.
Silva’s second, in the 61st minute, was the culmination of a swift flowing passing movement, with AK47 Kolarov firing in a trademark cross, which City’s grand Canarian swept home past a despairing Julian Speroni.
20 minutes later, stand-in skipper Yaya Toure, in what was arguably his most effective game of the season, sealed the win with a thunderbolt shot.
City broke at speed from their 18-yard box with Jesus Navas and, after a lung-busting 70-yard run, Yaya was on hand to smash home James Milner’s beautifully weighted assist.
Palace were denied a legitimate goal when James McArthur’s header was wrongly disallowed for offside.
Had ‘assistant referee’ Peter Kirkup not have made the cock up, it could conceivably have altered the complexion of the last 20 minutes of play. As it was, City’s domination of the game (73% possession & 15 shots compared to Palace’s 6) was justly rewarded.
Typically, the apparent ‘injustice’ meted out to Palace is the main media focus after what was a comprehensive home win – City’s eighth consecutive victory since November 8th – when they languished nine points behind Chelsea and, effectively written off in the title race.
Quite what Manuel Pellegrini and his team have to do to ‘earn’ the appropriate recognition is a mystery…but who cares? Actions speak louder than words and City’s winning streak drowns out any mutterings from Mourinho or loquacious offerings from Louis Van Gutteral.
According to a large proportion of the press and pundits, Chelsea won the title last month… and yet more recently, Manchester United are going to win it in March/April when the top two teams are distracted by Champions League commitments…go figure?
You couldn’t make it up, but then again there’s no need, we can leave it to the ‘experts’ because that’s what the City haters and City baiters do best.
Of course, Pellegrini’s ‘One Man’ team have been in freefall since a tearful Sergio Aguero hobbled off in distress against Everton with the game all square at 0-0.
Four wins and four clean sheets – despite losing Captain Kompany and the entire attack – later, and the Champions of England are showing their class and professionalism.
Martin Demichelis marked his 34th birthday alongside 23-year old Eliaquim Mangala at the centre of a City defence rapidly returning to the miserly ways of the old Mancini rearguard.
The combination of experience with exuberance is standing City in good stead. Clean sheets are back in vogue and that’s a big factor in winning matches, especially when you don’t have any fit forwards.
Pablo Zabaleta’s return to world class form is also key to City’s resurgence. Both he and Aleksander Kolarov provided good width and penetrative play down the flanks.
Zaba came within inches of his third goal in as many weeks, only to see his cheeky first half ‘dink’ shot elude Speroni, but go agonisingly the wrong side of the post.
Great credit goes to ‘Centre Forward For A Day’ the ever versatile James Milner, who, worked tirelessly and to good effect against a physical Palace backline.
Samir Nasri’s sustained top quality showings, aligned to the re-awakening of Yaya’s appetite for success in Sky Blue, bodes well as City strive to end the year at a dizzy height.
It doesn’t come much higher than sitting aloft the Premier League as the Fatman in red rolls up in his sleigh. Over to you Hughesy!
By David Walker
In conjunction with Manchester City Football Club, we’ll be announcing the winner of the MCFC Legends Stadium & Club Tour on Christmas Eve, when one lucky City fan will get an early present of two tickets worth £140.
The lucky dip draw will take place when David Smith, Business Development Executive at the Etihad, pulls out a name from the countless dozens of entries.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu