Crystal Palace vs Man CityEnglish Premier League, KO: 17:30 Oct 19, 2019, Selhurst Park
THE clocks have still to go back and already Manchester City's title defence is hanging by a thread ahead of a clash with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday evening.
Pep Guardiola's side were woeful at home to Wolves a fortnight ago when they were beaten 2-0 in their own backyard and after being caught cold at Carrow Road by Norwich last month City can ill-afford anymore slip-ups.
The Citizens currently trail Premier League pacesetters Liverpool by eight points, however, Pep's men will be presented with the opportunity to reduce the arrears to five – at least temporarily – when they go toe-to-toe with Crystal Palace in this weekend's tea-time kick off.
The Eagles have made a flying start to their campaign having picked up 14 points from their opening eight outings – a return that sees Palace occupy a top-six spot and a points total equal to that of both Chelsea and Leicester.
Furthermore, Roy Hodgson's team have only tasted defeat once in their last six Premier League matches – a 4-0 thumping away at Spurs – and after recording back-to-back wins – the most recent of which came away at West Ham – the Eagles will be eyeing their biggest scalp of the season to date when stuttering City pitch up at a passionate Selhurst Park.
The home side are unbeaten in their last six Premier League games in their London home, however, the bookmakers believe that run will come to an end this weekend with Palace a towering 12/1 (BetVictor) to topple the champions and the draw an unfancied 11/2 (UniBet)
City were the last visiting side to collect three points at this venue – winning 3-1 back in April on route to the title – and the Sky Blues are odds-on at 1/4 (UniBet) to triumph in this latest tussle.
However, those odds look a bit too short to me on account of Man City's defensive deficiencies as well as the fact that in-form Palace prevailed at the Etihad last season.
Indeed, Guardiola has a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, however, Palace will carry an attacking threat of their own on the break with the likes of Wilfred Zaha and Jordan Ayew both capable of giving City's ropey rearguard the runaround.
Ayew is rewarding the faith shown in him by Roy Hodsgon this term after netting three times in seven league appearances thus far and I like the look of the 6/4 (PaddyPower) on offer for the Ghanaian forward to have at least one shot on target against a fragile City defence who can often be left exposed due to their free-flowing style of play.
The aforementioned Zaha will also be tough to shackle given his physicality and speed as well as the fact that he is currently averaging 4.8 dribbles per game – the highest in the division.
Consequently, Zaha is the second-most fouled player in the Premier League at this stage of the season having won 28 fouls for his team and I fancy the Palace talisman to add to that tally when hitting City on the counter-attack.
In conjunction with that, the card markets could be worth visiting for this encounter – especially after City clocked up five bookings when collapsing against Wolves recently – and a case could be made for several Citizens to be cautioned.
Portuguese full-back Joao Cancelo still appears to be finding his feet at the Etihad following his Summer switch from Juventus – Cancelo has picked up a card in City's last two matches – and he looks overpriced to collect another at 4/1 (BetVictor) if he is tasked with taming the tricky Zaha.
However, at the other end of the park, the Eagles defence will be kept busy when trying to shut out star-studded City who are set to welcome back the brilliant Kevin De Bruyne from injury.
The Belgian playmaker could hold the key to reviving City's title defence and after Guardiola saw his side fail to score in the league for the first time in 29 games two weeks ago, a repeat here is unlikely – especially if De Bruyne is back pulling the strings.
Yet, Palace have only conceded three times in their last seven league games so they could make life difficult for City if they can restrict the visitors and avoid conceding an early goal whilst being roared on by a raucous home crowd.
Anything other than a Man City win here would put a massive dent in their hopes of retaining their crown and although City are undoubtedly the superior side, I can't help but think this could be another potential banana skin for Pep and Co.
Therefore, I'm going to take a more conservative approach and back both teams to score at 10/11 (Betfred) – a bet that would have banked profit in Man City's last three matches away from home in the Premier League.
This English Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Man City will be played on Oct 19, 2019 and kick off at 17:30