Manchester City 4-0 Crystal Palace
- Goals: John Stones (£5.1m) x2| Ilkay Gundogan (£5.5m)| Raheem Sterling (£11.4m)
- Assists: Kevin De Bruyne (£11.9m)| Ruben Dias (£5.8m)| Ferran Torres (£6.9m)
- Bonus: Stones x3, Dias x2, De Bruyne x1
John Stones (£5.1m) delivered a massive 21 point haul as the defender bagged a brace against Crystal Palace.
Manchester City produced their best defensive display of the season in keeping another clean sheet, and look like the Premier League’s best defence.
With three favourable fixtures coming up, Fantasy Premier League players are already jumping on board the City defensive bandwagon.
Stones’ recent comeback has certainly been unexpected, considering he was firmly expected to depart from the Etihad in the summer, after falling way down the pecking order.
A series of costly mistakes saw Stones fall out of favour with Guardiola, whose City side struggled defensively last season.
Even makeshift centre back, Fernandinho (£5.4m) saw himself selected ahead of Stones for the majority of the season.
But the £47.5 million signing from Everton has completely turned around his career, with 2020/21 proving to be his redemption season.
Alongside new signing Ruben Dias (£5.8m), Stones has established himself at the heart of the City defence, starting eight of the last nine Premier League matches.
His influence on the team cannot be underestimated, with the Citizens keeping seven clean sheets in his nine starts across the course of the season.
Added to his solid defensive performances, Stones even appears to be adding goals to his game.
After scoring the winning goal in the Carabao Cup Manchester Derby, Stones popped up in the Palace box to score two goals.
Once left out in the cold, Stones now appears to have forged a strong bond with Pep, who credited Dias’ influence in helping the Barnsley born defender discover his form.
“Every player needs confidence but all the credit is just for him. If I have one player I’m pleased everything is going well for it’s him. He deserves the best. He overcame this situation all himself. He’s playing because he deserves it and I’m happy for him. John, alongside Ruben, grew up.”
With the City defence in this kind of form, and injuries to Aymeric Laporte (£6.0m) and Nathan Ake (£5.4m) keeping them out of the side, Stones doesn’t like losing his place any time soon.
And with plum fixtures against West Brom (away), Sheffield United (home) and Burnley (away), Stones’ price is set to shoot up.
The Iron Curtain
If City’s attack has faltered in recent Gameweeks, the same cannot be said of their defence.
The Citizens have quietly established themselves as the best defensive unit in the league, with Dias and Stones the foundation of this.
Pep’s men have already registered nine clean sheets this season – their most after 17 games of all their Premier League campaigns.
And in the 10 games Dias and Stones have started together, City have only conceded one goal.
City produced their best defensive display of the season against Palace, not even letting them have a shot on target.
As well as the impressive form of Stones and Dias, Pep may have found even more competition for places at left-back.
Oleksandr Zinchenko (£5.5m) was brought into the side primarily due to injuries, but has kept his place even with Benjamin Mendy (£5.9m) fit again.
In this time Zinchenko has become a key part of the defence, and even got two bonus points in the previous shutout against Brighton.
Pep credited the whole team and their aggressive pressing for City’s improved defensive numbers.
“If you see today Raz (Sterling) and Bernardo and Gabriel (Jesus) and when they came in Ferran (Torres) and the other subs the way we press, how aggressive we are, how intense we are – it is so important, so good. It helps the central defenders to be better but we cannot deny the guys behind don’t make mistakes, they are so consistent and when the opponents scored a goal it is because they did well – not because we give it to them.”
Last season it happened many times that the opponents didn’t do anything and we gave them goals. That makes it so difficult but this season we have improved a lot because we concede few (chances) and the difference is we don’t make mistakes.
The only downpoint for FPL managers on their defensive display will have been the benching of Joao Cancelo (£5.8m).
The Portuguese full-back was brought in by more than 160,000 players ahead of Double Gameweek 19, but found himself benched in favour of Kyle Walker (£6.1m).
When Cancelo did get on the pitch in the 70th minute, he was interestingly deployed in central midfield, replacing Kevin De Bruyne (£11.9m).
With Walker failing to impress against Palace, many expect Cancelo to regain his place at right-back for the Aston Villa match.
There was a sense of deja vu for De Bruyne owners with the City promising so much, yet not quite delivering.
The German produced the moment of the match when his magnificent outside of the foot cross, which left even Pep lost for words, was met by John Stones for his first goal.
What can I say again? The managers can help many things but one thing that belongs is the talent up front. Managers are incredibly fortunate or lucky to be in charge of this kind of player because it makes your life easier. In this type of game we have struggled in the last two seasons to beat them and I understood today why – it can only be broken by the quality of the players up front and this is the special something where managers are not involved.
With nearly 200,000 managers choosing to use their Triple Captain chip on KDB, there will have been a sigh of relief after his assist, especially after Bruno Fernandes (£11.3m) and Mohamed Salah (£12.5m) blanked in the earlier fixture.
But De Bruyne failed to add to his tally and was substituted on at the 70 minute mark.
Despite passing the eye test on every level, popping up all over the pitch, creating chances and taking shots, De Bruyne just can’t seem to land the huge hauls he did last season.
In the second half, it was another German midfielder who took the spotlight.
Ilkay Gundogan (£5.5m) scored his fourth goal of the season with a magnificent curling strike in the top corner.
This was Gundogan’s fourth goal in six games, and he is clearly relishing being given the licence to join in with the City attacks.
With his low price tag, Gundogan has rightly entered FPL managers’ thoughts as a budget midfield option, and even a cheaper alternative to De Bruyne.
Jesus on the rise?
Gabriel Jesus (£9.1m) returned to the starting line-up against Palace, with De Bruyne returning to a more familiar midfield role.
Deployed as a centre-forward, City fans hoped Jesus could give the side a cutting edge it lacked against Brighton.
But this was not the case, as the Brazilian constantly found himself on the periphery of the game.
Jesus’ lack of influence is shown in his heatmap, where he spent most of his time outside the box.
With Pep opting for a fluid frontline, Jesus was even moved out wide as substitute Ferran Torres (£6.9m) took up a false nine role.
All this indicates Jesus’ place in the team and even in the squad is clearly under threat, with Pep often preferring to deploy a midfielder in a false nine role rather than him up front.
Sergio Aguero (£10.3m) should also be returning from quarantine soon, to give Pep another option up-front.
One Man Team?
Roy Hodgson has refuted all previous claims about his Palace side being a one-man team that relies too much on Wilfried Zaha (£7.3m).
But with the Ivory Coast international surprisingly left out of their squad, Palace lacked any kind of attacking threat.
With Andros Townsend moving up from midfield to join Jordan Ayew in attack, Palace lacked Zaha’s electric pace on the break.
Without his speed and willingness to take players on, Palace found themselves unable to get out of their own half, also due to City’s relentless pressing.
After the game, Hodgson said his side relied too much on playing the ball back to goalkeeper Vincente Guaita (£4.8m) which indicates they missed having Zaha as an out-ball.
As mentioned above, Palace couldn’t manage a single shot on target, and their expected goals rating is the lowest of Double Gameweek 19.
Eagles fans will be hoping Zaha will be fit for the Gameweek 20 fixture against West Ham, after being ruled out of the City game with an injury he sustained against Arsenal.
Speaking after the game, Hodgson bemoaned the “blatant mistakes” his side made in the game.
We made some quite blatant mistakes in the second half, often playing the ball back to much to the goalkeeper, and it cost us. The goals they scored were fantastic goals but if we could have done what we did in the first half, we could have made it that bit harder and not lost by such a big margin.”
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko; De Bruyne (Cancelo 71), Rodri, Gundogan (Torres 71); Bernardo (Foden 60), Jesus, Sterling
Crystal Palace XI (4-1-4-1): Guaita; Mitchell, Cahill, Tomkins, Ward; Milivojevic; Eze, McArthur, McCarthy, Townsend; Ayew
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