Iheanacho's late winner maintains perfect start to the season
FA Premier League
Saturday 12 September 2015, 15.00 KO
City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany (c), Mangala, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure, Navas, Nasri (Demichelis 94), Bony (Iheanacho 89), Aguero (De Bruyne 25)
Unused: Caballero, Garcia, Otamendi, Roberts
Goals: Iheanacho (90)
Booked: Toure, Mangala, Nasri
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Samir Nasri
A late winner from substitute Kelchi Iheanacho secured all three points for Manuel Pellegrini's side, and maintained City's perfect start to the season. The Nigerian youngster pounced in the 90th minute when Alex McCarthy could only parry Samir Nasri's shot, and Iheanacho reacted quickest to score his first senior goal for the club.
It was a resilient performance from the Blues, in adverse circumstances. Already without the influential David Silva, Pellegrini was forced to make another change after Raheem Sterling suffered a slight hamstring strain prior to the game. City's manager opted to revert to the 442 formation favoured so often last season, with Wilfried Bony recalled to the starting XI. Palace, as expected, started brightly with Yannick Bolasie leading the line in the absence of Connor Wickham. City weathered the early storm, but were perhaps fortunate not to concede a penalty when Fernandinho clipped Yohan Cabaye's heel in the box.
Immediately after it was City's turn to feel aggrieved, as Scott Dann escaped with a yellow card following a scything challenge on Sergio Aguero. It was a disgraceful tackle, and Palace could have had no complaints if referee Jones had produced a red card. Aguero was forced off, and Pellegrini faces an anxious wait to discover if he will be available for the midweek clash with Juventus. The Chilean manager was understandably angered by the challenge, and tempers flared with his old adversary Alan Pardew on the touchline.
Kevin De Bruyne, the club's record £54m signing, came on for his debut, and the Belgian international made an impressive start to his City career, interchanging well with Nasri and demonstrating his range of passing. The substitution forced Pellegrini to revert to a 4231 formation, and immediately the Blues looked more comfortable.
Bony and De Bruyne both tested McCarthy before the break, but the teams were level at half-time. City started the second half brightly, and should have taken the lead when Jesus Navas was put through from a lovely De Bruyne pass. The Spanish winger rounded the goalkeeper but lost his balance at the crucial moment, and fired wide with the goal gaping. Navas has made a positive contribution so far this season, but appears bereft of confidence in front of goal.
City dominated possession as the half progressed, but chances were few and far between for either side. The game appeared to be heading for a draw, which wouldn't have been a bad result for Pellegrini in the circumstances, before Iheanacho's late intervention. The Nigerian striker has been elevated to the senior squad following the departures of Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko, and there are high hopes for him at The Etihad. He showed a predator's instinct here, responding quicker than the Palace defenders to net a simple tap-in, sparking scenes of jubilation in the visting end.
City have now won their first five league games without conceding a goal, and have already established an eleven point lead over champions Chelsea. Pellegrini could scarcely have wished for a better start to the season.