Let’s not pretend that the remainder of the Premier League season will suddenly handbe suspenseful now that Manchester City has dropped its third and fourth points of the season. In 2018, this season will go the same as it did in 2017. Pep Guardiola’s dazzlers failed to win a game for just the second time in their Premier League campaign on Sunday, grinding to a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.
After 21 games, City has won 19 of them and tied two. It still hasn’t lost. And while its lead over second-place Chelsea could have been a stunning 16 points going into the new year, it still stands at a similarly insurmountable 14. That is to say, City could lose its next four games and even if Chelsea kept on winning, City would still lead the league by two points.
But City’s 18-game league winning streak has come to an end. It set a new Premier League record, but it fell short of equaling Bayern Munich’s 19-game run, set in the 2013-14 season under Guardiola, the record for major European leagues.
In truth, City was a tad fortunate to eke out even the draw. Palace had two fat chances late on, with Andros Townsend missing a sitter and Luka Milivojevic hitting an injury-time penalty right at Ederson. And the pain for City might be bigger than the death of its streak or the two points lost. Gabriel Jesus was injured in the first half, leaving the field in tears. Kevin De Bruyne was stretchered off in injury time after a bad tackle from Jason Puncheon.
The first time these two sides met this season, City hammered Palace 5-0, the low point of the Eagles’ seven-game losing streak to start the league season. But as much as the talk will be of City’s winning streak coming to an end, you’d be remiss not to notice that under Roy Hodgson, Palace has now lost just once in its last 10 games. Early in the season, during Frank de Boer’s dispiriting tenure, Palace seemed doomed for relegation, now it sits a point above the drop-zone — pending a game in hand for West Ham United.
A sprightly Palace indicated early on that it would counter-punch City, rather than sit back and absorb all those blows, as most teams now do. Such an irreverent approach yielded the first few half-chances for the home team and set the tone for the game.
When a ball bounced between City defender Eliaquim Mangala and goalkeeper Ederson, who miscommunicated and allowed Christian Benteke to sneak in there, the Belgian’s opportunistic shot at an empty goal was unknowingly blocked by the retreating Mangala. A short while later, Patrick van Aanholt’s rip from distance was deflected and then pushed wide by Ederson.
City spent the entirety of the opening half in a struggle to break through Palace’s press, and leery of its counter-attacks through the blindingly quick Wilfried Zaha. For the first time in many weeks, City looked frustrated. It spent a lot of time in the Eagles’ third, but seldom got close, somehow. The biggest chance came just before the half-hour mark. Sergio Aguero, who had come on for the injured Gabriel Jesus, dinked a badly deflected ball off the post.
City had a few more chances in the second half — Ilkay Gundogan curled a ball just wide of the post; Aguero had a header; Leroy Sane got a good look but was denied by Wayne Hennessey.
But after that assault, Palace managed to slow the pace and wrest the best of the chances even as City was totally in control in the second half. In the 77th minute, Townsend was gifted a wide-open look at the far post but he got his shot so wrong it was likelier to leave the stadium than to hit the back of the net.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) December 31, 2017
Then, in the 90th, Zaha won a penalty when he went down lightly on Raheem Sterling’s contact in the box. Milivojevic put his spot-kick much too close to Ederson, however, who kicked it away.
In the late exchanges, Puncheon probably should have been sent off for that savage tackle on De Bruyne but was spared – although a review from the league might not be so kind.
The tie felt like a win for Palace, given how these sides’ seasons have gone. Yet the Eagles might rightly be aggrieved that they didn’t pick up two more points that would have, unfathomably, lifted them into 13th place.
City, of course, remain immovably entrenched at the top of the table. And a rare afternoon of difficulty doesn’t do much of anything to change the impression that only an epic collapse could make this into a real title race. Because the Sky Blues remain on pace to end the season with an astonishing 106 points. To put that in perspective, defending champions Chelsea, putting up the closest pursuit, have charted a course towards 81 points.
Nothing that happened in South London on Sunday changed that, however serious the injuries might be.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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