Patrick Vieira had been seconds from a happy return to a former club when he went back to Arsenal. As he revisited another old haunt, this he was not to be denied.
Manchester City’s former midfielder, football development executive and reserve-team manager turned their conqueror. Just his second win in charge of Crystal Palace marred Pep Guardiola’s 200th Premier League game. Back in 2015, Vieira travelled to Germany to watch Guardiola’s training sessions with Bayern Munich. Perhaps, the older man may reflect, he learnt too much. “We need to do everything right and the players show character,” Guardiola said. “Unfortunately it went wrong in many, many things.”
Certainly Palace were outstanding. “I am really proud of the way we fought,” said Vieira. “When you come to a place like City you have to be prepared to suffer and I really want to praise the personality and the work ethic of the team.”
A back four based around the centre-backs he signed, Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi, limited City to three shots on target, despite 68 per cent of possession, and showed organisation and determination. Another Vieira addition, the Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher, played a part in the first goal and scored the second, capping a display of great verve. Wilfried Zaha long predated Vieira’s appointment but the Frenchman’s decision to bring a fit-again talisman back into the team as a centre-forward, rather than a winger, was vindicated in resounding fashion.
Aymeric Laporte could testify to Zaha’s impact. The Spain international endured one of the worst days of his City career; culpable for the opener, sent off before half-time, he is now banned for Saturday’s Manchester derby.
City’s inability to score was partly attributable to the fact they played for so long with 10 men, but Palace had kept them at arm’s length even before them. “We didn’t have many chances in the first half but we had enough to score,” insisted Guardiola.
But Palace had struck early, aided by the relentless Gallagher. He put Laporte under pressure and in turn he gifted the ball to Zaha, sending him sprinting clear. The finish was scuffed but accurate enough to beat Ederson. It was the first home goal City had conceded in the Premier League this season and made Zaha the only player to score 50 top-flight goals for Palace.
The merits of using Zaha in the middle were apparent again when Laporte departed. “He is somebody who is really strong on one versus one,” said Vieira, who had flanked a winger with two players who are strikers by trade.
One of them, Odsonne Edouard, won a header. It left Zaha isolated against Laporte and as the defender grappled with the forward and brought him down. “A little bit strange to see a red,” said a surprised Ruben Dias. “Could be a yellow card, could be a red,” shrugged Guardiola. “It depends on the boss, the referee.” Andre Marriner decided Laporte was the last man.
Vicente Guaita’s only save by that stage had come from Rodri, who shot straight at him. The Spaniard curled a second-half shot over while Gabriel Jesus briefly thought he had levelled; Jack Grealish’s cross had been lovely, but only after he was offside.
And Palace posed a threat on the break. Jordan Ayew twice could have scored. Gallagher was denied by Ederson once but then did, firing in a shot via the post after Michael Olise and Zaha combined on a counter-attack. “I should not have even been in the box,” confessed Gallagher. “The boss told me to sit in but I just had a feeling I could get a chance and thankfully I was able to finish it.” But it was the perfect finish for Palace.