With four games to play in just over two weeks, Manchester City find themselves in a strong position to consolidate what has been a disappointing season by attaining Champions League qualification.
The Citizens currently occupy 4th, the final spot which gives a chance of qualifying for Europe’s premier competition. As it stands Pep Guardiola’s side hold just a single point advantage over their rivals Manchester United, but could leapfrog Liverpool into third should they win by two goals on Saturday.
At the other end of the table, Crystal Palace, who travel to the Etihad Stadium for the lunchtime kick-off, are close to securing their top-flight future, following some impressive results since Sam Allardyce arrived as manager.
The Eagles are only two shy of the 40 points total that usually guarantees safety, and have a six-point cushion between themselves and Swansea City, with three games remaining.
City have failed to win any of their last three matches in all competitions but faced both Arsenal and Manchester United within that short period. Their last ten league games have yielded only four wins (compared to Tottenham Hotspur’s nine and Chelsea’s seven) but include just a single defeat, suffered away to the league leaders.
Palace have gained more points than City from their own last ten, albeit losing more often. Allardyce’s side were victorious on six occasions, including wins at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, but have since lost successive home games, most recently granting Burnley their second away win of the season.
Still, things are looking much better at Selhurst Park than a few months ago. The side have arguably been aided by having no distractions from the league since City knocked them out of the FA Cup in January. That 0-3 home defeat was the last time the two teams met, but the Sky Blues have already beaten Palace in the league this season, and boast a record of eight wins/one defeat from their last nine encounters.
On the Eagle’s last three visits to the Etihad, they have conceded 12 and scored just once.
Guardiola has continued a trend of altering formations and personnel that has been seen throughout the season. It is no secret that the Spaniard will look to significantly strengthen his team over summer – particularly in defence – and there are sure signs that he does still not know his strongest XI.
Allardyce, on the other hand, has proven much easier to predict since his first weeks on the job. The disgraced ex-England boss has recently stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation, and will likely do the same despite two defeats.
City’s only long-term absentee is Ilkay Gundogan who has not featured since December. Claudio Bravo will miss the season’s end after picking up a calf injury in the Manchester derby.
John Stones has been forced out of the last three games and could return. The Englishman may be joined by David Silva who has sat out of two matches, but Sergio Aguero is a major doubt and may well lose his place to Gabriel Jesus through injury.
Palace have been without Connor Wickham and Pape Souare for most of the season, whilst Scott Dann remains unavailable since sustaining an injury in the win at Chelsea. His absence, combined with more recent problems with James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho (who was stretchered off against Spurs) has left Allardyce with a defensive headache. Last week Martin Kelly partnered Damien Delaney at the back, there are few options available for this to change.
Match Prediction: Manchester City 3-2 Crystal Palace
The Citizens are on the verge of salvaging something from a disappointing campaign but face a difficult test from a Palace side desperate to guarantee their survival. In recent weeks The Eagles, particularly Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke, have shown how lethal they can be when playing on the back-foot.
There is no doubt that City will dominate possession, and they shouldn’t have many problems breaking down the visitors’ depleted defence. However, Guardiola’s side have consistently had their own defensive frailties exploited and their much-criticised full-backs will be exposed by the skill of Zaha and pace of Andros Townsend.
If Palace had a full strength defence, a positive result would certainly be on the cards, yet without Sakho, who has been instrumental since arriving on loan, expect two poor defensive displays, and City to edge this one with their attacking quality.