Manchester City eased into the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 3-0 win at Crystal Palace that showed why their hosts are at such risk of relegation.
City’s erratic Premier League form has given many the confidence to challenge them but they convincingly outplayed Palace at Selhurst Park, where fine goals from Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Yaya Toure secured victory.
Defeat leaves Palace with only survival to concentrate on – perhaps exactly what they need in the circumstances – but came with the latest reminder of how desperately they need to improve.
Club captain Vincent Kompany returned to City’s starting XI, making his first appearance since suffering another injury in their 2-1 win at Palace at the same stadium in November.
There was also a full debut for £27million signing Gabriel Jesus and a rare start for Willy Caballero over out-of-form goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, but there was little question Kompany’s presence felt most significant.
Injuries have restricted the 30-year-old to only six appearances this season, and his natural authority in central defence would likely have corrected much of the uncertainty they have experienced there.
Regardless of whether he had started at Selhurst Park, however, the suspicion remains Palace would have offered little. They were reasonably committed but, despite suggesting otherwise midweek, manager Sam Allardyce selected a weakened team without James McArthur, Damien Delaney, Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy.
The gulf in quality between the two teams was first demonstrated in the 10th minute when Toure, from a deep position, curled a perfectly weighted chip into the penalty area which David Silva calmly struck first time before watching goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey smother wide.
Palace’s first response of note highlighted that further. From Andros Townsend’s 32nd-minute right-wing free-kick, Jordon Mutch headed onto Christian Benteke, and from in front of goal the unmarked striker headed harmlessly over.
It was a moment of exceptional quality that gave City the lead. From space in midfield in the 43rd minute, Jesus sent Sterling clear beyond Palace’s defence, from where the forward retained his composure to control and comfortably finish beyond Hennessey.
Allardyce responded at half-time by replacing the ineffective Benteke with Remy, but it was more than greater energy his team required.
Indeed, shortly after Fabian Delph had threatened when shooting wide from midfield after being played into space by Silva, and Palace’s Joe Ledley had struck wide from similar range, the weather briefly appeared City’s greatest threat.
Hail began to fall so heavily midway through the second half that had it continued conditions may have become unplayable. It instead passed, and the already comfortable visitors took advantage to double their lead.
The outstanding Silva strolled through midfield under little pressure in the 71st minute, but where others would have passed far earlier, he delayed until the final moment and played in Sane, who from a tight angle finished impressively beyond Hennessey and inside the far right post.
Toure returned from his exile from City’s first team to inspire their victory here in November, and two minutes into second-half stoppage time he added another superb goal.
From a 30-yard free-kick, he brilliantly curled into the top left corner and out of Hennessey’s reach. The cup may yet provide their likeliest route to success.