Nevertheless some of the seeds for City's
current situation were clearly sown on that
icy day in South East London.
Firstly, an 18-match winning run which had
included spectacular wins against Liverpool,
Arsenal, Tottenham, Napoli and Arsenal, was
ended. Watford had shipped six and Stoke
seven against Pep Guardiola's men in the
same period. City had appeared virtually
unstoppable in the first half of the season,
even conjuring a series of last-gasp winners
that suggested when the chips were down,
their winning mentality would see them
Last-gasp winners had almost become the
norm with Huddersfield, West Ham,
Southampton and Feyenoord being
dispatched cruelly late in the Premier League
and Champions League, respectively. In the
League Cup, the winning run had been
stretched even closer to breaking point with
penalty shootout wins against willing
Wolves and Leicester sides.
Crystal Palace, however, marked a turning
point in many more ways than simply
heralding the end of that scintillating
It was the match where Gabriel Jesus was
injured, rendering City's attack a one-man
affair through January and February, as
Sergio Aguero was asked to carry the can.
Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne was also
removed from the Selhurst Park pitch on a
stretcher that afternoon after a horrendous
lunge from Jason Puncheon stopped him
breaking clear for a possible late winner.
For the grand artists of Manchester City,
things were beginning to get physical.
In injuring himself in the act of committing
the foul, Puncheon was perhaps delivered a
small slice of just desserts, but De Bruyne --
seemingly poleaxed and with everyone
expecting the worst -- was back on duty for
the very next game, a routine home victory
against Watord. The Puncheon tackle was
just one of several horrendous fouls on
City's main man this season that have failed
to stop him.
The Belgian, cruising towards individual
player accolades as well as collective prizes
with his club was suddenly the league's
most marked man. Dele Alli had also left stud
marks down his shins in the home win
against Tottenham, and the recent victory
against West Brom saw a wild but
unsuccessful attempt by James McClean to
take him out at knee height while surging
De Bruyne's assertion that he is tired will
make sobering reading for City fans, with
the pointy end of the season approaching.
In a week's time, Champions League
skirmishing will resume in Switzerland
against Basel. City have a League Cup final
date with Arsenal at Wembley at the end of
this month and must travel to Wigan to
attempt to maintain course for a possible
second Wembley appearance in the FA Cup.
De Bruyne has good reason to be feeling his
battered legs. Of the 39 games City have
played this season, he has started 34 and
appeared later in another two, leaving just
three games that he has played no part in
since August. The Belgian might have been
undroppable for many months, but his legs
clearly need a rest.
If Guardiola wants City's Champions League
thrust to be as forceful as City's domestic
drive has been, he must now begin to spare
those bruised legs a little. If the Palace game
has served another lesson, it is that
unscrupulous players will use foul means or
fair to stop City's best players. The jury might
be out on whether some of these X-rated
tackles were intentional or simply poorly
timed against the league's best players, but
the result is the same: an injury list that
threatens to run into double figures.
Defensive lynchpins Nicolas Otamendi and
Fernandinho are not far behind De Bruyne's
games total. Having to face any of the big-
hitters later on in the Champions League
without this trio, plus the intermittently
involved David Silva and the over-burdened
Sergio Aguero would greatly impact City's
The manager will be painfully aware of this,
as he waits patiently for Fabian Delph,
Benjamin Mendy, John Stones, Gabriel Jesus,
Phil Foden and Leroy Sane to mend. A
momentous season now rests on the careful
managing of playing resources through a
slightly less packed month of February \(City
played nine games in January).
In Danilo, Ilkay Gundogan, Oleksandr
Zinchenko, Yaya Toure and Bernardo Silva,
Guardiola has talent and experience waiting
in the wings.
If City are to learn the lessons of Selhurst
Park and complete a historic season for the
club, the manager's team selections in the
next six weeks will be absolutely critical.