MANCHESTER, December 28 – Edin Dzeko’s second-half strike sent Manchester City to the top of the Premier League table as his side earned a narrow 1-0 victory over strugglers Crystal Palace on Saturday.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini decided to make six changes from his side’s victory over Liverpool on Thursday and their 100 percent home record looked in danger until Dzeko’s strike with 24 minutes to go.
Nonetheless, the 2012 champions are now top of the league for the first time since the opening weekend of the season, with previous leaders Arsenal not in action until Sunday.
With City unbeaten at the Etihad Stadium in the league this year, visiting their ground is a daunting task for even Europe’s top sides, let alone relegation candidates Palace.
Tony Pulis’s side may have won four of their last seven games, but City’s ruthlessness on their own turf meant that most Palace fans travelled north expecting a damage limitation exercise.
But City lacked something in the opening half, with the absence of midfielder Yaya Toure notable as he was rested by Pellegrini and looked on from the bench.
David Silva did create an early chance for Dzeko and he flashed a shot wide in the best of the first-half openings.
City probed for the opening 45 minutes with the majority of the possession, but they did not have the same zip to their play that has seen them put six goals past Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur on home turf this season.
They were limited to long-distance efforts, with Silva, James Milner and even centre-back Vincent Kompany having a go from range, only to be either off target or have their shots easily saved by Julian Speroni in the Palace goal.
Palace rarely ventured out of their own half, but when they did it ended badly for forward Cameron Jerome, who had to be taken off after colliding with City goalkeeper Joe Hart.
England international Hart received a nasty cut under his eye for his troubles.
That led to a lengthy delay and in the first-half stoppage time that resulted, Fernandinho forced Speroni into a decent stop with a powerful header.
After the restart, it was Hart who was tested first when Jason Puncheon fizzed an effort towards the bottom corner that the City goalkeeper pushed away.
That prompted Pellegrini into a double change as Fernandinho and right-back Dedryck Boyata were sacrificed for the more attacking Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo.
Pellegrini’s decision to rest some of his big names in the busy festive period, having complained about fixture congestion recently, looked set to backfire.
Frustration was creeping in among the home fans, who had been treated to so much better in their side’s previous home games.
And the hosts even started to look vulnerable on the counter-attack, with Puncheon curling just wide and Mile Jedinak forcing Hart into a good save with a dangerous swerving effort.
But the tension that was filtering around the Etihad was released in the 66th minute when Palace failed to clear and Jesus Navas crossed for Dzeko, who lifted a shot into the roof of the net from 12 yards.
Soon after, Joel Ward forced Hart into another save before the Palace defender headed wide from close range from Barry Bannan’s cross.
Dzeko went close in second-half stoppage time as he headed just over, but a second goal was not needed in the end for City, who can look down on their title rivals for a few hours at least.