Pep Guardiola paid tribute to Manchester City midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri after they kept a clean sheet in defence to help the Premier League champions win 2-0 at Crystal Palace.
With John Stones recently back from injury and only able to take a place on the bench and Nicolas Otamendi absent after suffering a knock while on international duty with Argentina, City were left short of options at centre-back.
That meant it was left to Rodri to drop back alongside fellow midfielder Fernandinho into the heart of City’s defence at Selhurst Park, where first-half goals from Gabriel Jesus and David Silva saw them move to within five points of leaders Liverpool, albeit having played a game more.
“We had a lot of chances, unfortunately we cannot convert more, but it’s OK, we have next time,” Guardiola said.
“Nico had a big kick in the international with Argentina and in training yesterday I decided and thought about it.
“It’s a long season and we are going to use alternatives. John is now back, but he didn’t play for a long time.
“I thank them (Fernandinho and Rodri) both so much because it is not easy to play different positions with strikers like Crystal Palace have in Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew and Christian Benteke. They did really well.”
Jesus started up front for City with Sergio Aguero, who is joint top of the Premier League scoring charts, an unused substitute at Selhurst Park.
The 22-year-old Brazil international broke the deadlock in the 39th minute with his 50th goal for City, and it proved an invaluable contribution as Guardiola’s men bounced back from their shock 2-0 home loss to Wolves two weeks ago.
The City boss said: “We have two incredible strikers. I will not talk about how important Sergio Aguero is for this club and ourselves. He is so important.
“Gabriel Jesus came back from Brazil and had rhythm and Sergio was 10 days without rhythm and today I decided (who played), but both are important.
“When Sergio plays he is a good level and when Gabriel plays he is a good level. I decide it on many things.”
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach was less happy with VAR’s decision not to award Kevin De Bruyne a penalty in the second half when he went down in the area following a challenge with Zaha.
“It’s diving. It’s diving, it’s diving,” Guardiola sarcastically stated. “Every weekend it is diving. Bournemouth, here. But against Tottenham it was hands, real hands in the 94th minute. It’s diving again.”
Palace came into the match having climbed up to sixth place on the back of successive wins over Norwich and West Ham, and another victory would have lifted them above their opponents.
However, it was not to be and Palace boss Roy Hodgson admitted: “They’re just a very good team.
“At the moment we’re not fighting on exactly a level playing field. We are playing against a team which is packed full of world-class players and even the ones who come off the bench and comes in when the world-class players goes down for some reason, he is also probably world class.”
He added: “It was hard to get the composure that we were looking to get in order to mount attacks of our own but we kept going and I’m pleased about that and I’m proud of the team for doing that.”