Pep Guardiola said Manchester City’s aim is to “secure a place” in the Champions League next season after their faint title hopes were dealt another blow by a resolute Crystal Palace side.
Fernandinho’s 90th-minute own goal ensured the Eagles claimed a draw at Etihad Stadium on Saturday in a remarkable conclusion to the game.
The result leaves champions City 13 points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool, who have two games in hand and play Manchester United on Sunday (16:30 GMT).
Two Sergio Aguero goals in the last 10 minutes had turned a thrilling contest on its head – and looked set to earn City victory – after Cenk Tosun had given the Eagles a first-half lead.
All that late goal drama…
— Manchester City (@ManCity) January 18, 2020
Palace had the final word, however, when Wilfried Zaha stole down the left and put in a low cross that Fernandinho reached before Connor Wickham, only to divert the ball into his own net.
For long stages it appeared City would end up empty-handed, as they struggled to break down a brilliantly organised Palace side.
Kevin de Bruyne fired a first-half free-kick against the underside of the bar with the score at 0-0 but, for all the home side’s possession, they found clear-cut chances hard to come by.
Palace, meanwhile, hardly ventured forward until they scored and their defensive outlook was so entrenched, the City fans booed James McArthur for time-wasting as he walked over to take the corner that led to their first goal.
When the ball did come over, Gary Cahill out jumped John Stones at the back post and Tosun was unmarked to steer his knockdown into the corner.
That silenced an already subdued stadium, with the home fans frustrated further after the break when referee Graham Scott pointed to the spot for a Jairo Riedewald handball, only for the video assistant referee to overrule the decision. Replays showed the ball came off the defender’s foot first as he blocked Joao Cancelo’s cross.
It took Aguero to lead the rescue mission, with his first goal – his 250th for the club – coming when he turned home a Gabriel Jesus cross, before his second saw him expertly nod home a Benjamin Mendy delivery.
That should have settled the outcome but Zaha had other ideas, sending in a dangerous delivery that Fernandinho could only help home to preserve their five-game unbeaten run.
“We did everything to win the game and unfortunately in the end we lost two points because we could not stop the counter-attack,” said Guardiola.
“But we have to continue. There are still a lot of games to play. We have to try to secure the place for the Champions League next season.”
No birthday joy for Guardiola
Manager Pep Guardiola was hoping to celebrate his 49th birthday with three points rather than by taking his City squad to a local cinema to watch La La Land, which he did when he turned 46.
But his jubilant reaction to Aguero’s second goal turned to despair after Palace punished his side for dreaming at the back in all too familiar fashion.
The hard work had been done – they had found a way to break down a resilient Eagles side that offered City few chances after the break.
There was no way through the middle of the pitch so, time after time, City fired balls into the box. They had 46 crosses from open play alone.
That tactic repeatedly ended in frustration until two deliveries, both from the left, found Aguero in space, and he made no mistake.
Guardiola celebrated City’s second goal wildly but he was soon back on the touchline to bark instructions at his players – unfortunately for him, they did not follow them.
A lapse in concentration saw Cancelo stray too far forward, allowing Zaha to make the most of the space behind him, with Stones unable to catch him.
“I told them to keep going, put more balls into the box and try to control Zaha on the counter-attack,” Guardiola added.
“It’s difficult to analyse when they shoot one corner have no more chances and we did many times and unfortunately could not win. We take it one game at a time.”