Crystal Palace 2-1 Stoke City: 5 things We Learned

Written by Naveed Khan

1 – It Didn’t Matter How; Palace Simply Needed Three Points

Since the first international break of Roy Hodgson’s tenure, Palace have picked up eight points from six games and the performances have merited a greater return. Before the Stoke game, it was five points from five and with the previous two home games having been draws against West Ham and Everton with all-round solid performances, going into this game we needed substance over style. In the end, that is what we saw from a team not fluid going forward and struggling to find space against Stoke’s back-five. The half-time introduction of Christian Benteke was needed to add a focal point to the attacks and to give Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend some space in which to operate. The win came late; some long overdue fortune in where the ball fell and it didn’t matter – the performance didn’t matter, the team selection didn’t matter – simply three points mattered.

2 – Tomkins the Best Partner for Sakho

Palace’s revival under Sam Allardyce last season came with Mamadou Sakho was partnered with James Tomkins in the centre of defence. Since his injury, many fans have been left bewildered by his exclusion from the team – first in Frank De Boer’s back-three and since then in any of Roy’s league line-ups. He was given a chance on Saturday and impressed; four tackles, four interceptions and three blocks added to his sound positional sense and use of ball (74 passes with 86% accuracy). He’s made a case to start going forward, there was little else he could have done.

3 – Benteke Must Start

After his introduction against Everton, Benteke missed a chance he most likely would have hit the target with last season. Likewise, on Saturday, he hesitated in finishing Yohan Cabaye’s excellent pass and the chance ended up against the side netting. However, these are opportunities which the team was not creating without his presence. That he is rusty after a lay-off and little match practice is to be expected and this needs to be overcome and can only be overcome with game time. He is not an impact player, he grows into games – his goals last season were a key reason Palace survived and the same will be true this season if we are to beat the drop. He needs to start games, even if that means sacrificing some midfield solidarity – and a run of starts has to begin against Brighton.

4 – Cabaye’s All-Round Game Shines

Under Alan Pardew, used deep, Cabaye always made key contributions to games in terms of blocks, interceptions and starting moves – however without a defensive midfielder alongside him, he struggled be visually impactful all over the pitch. Since the signing of Luka Milivojević, Cabaye has had that impact – both deep and further forward. 68 passes at a 76% accuracy on Saturday is productive for a midfielder looking to create chances for those around him. His all round game shines through in statistical terms – not only is he averaging 2.2 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per match this season, he is also having 1.6 shots per game and has created 22 chances for his teammates. He has made himself into the heartbeat of this team and deserves to be recognised as such.

5 – This Team Keeps Going

It does not feel like long ago that the team, particularly under Pardew and the start of Allardyce’s reign, conceded goals at critical moments; either on the stroke of half time or close to full time. Recently, Roy’s team has shown the ability to start on the front foot with an early goal against Everton and point winning injury time goals against West Ham and Stoke. Prior to those, there were no fitness lapses against Chelsea in holding onto a lead and the signs are there that, aside from an error against Everton, the team are not switching off at critical moments. More so, they keep going through these, demonstrating a belief in the manager’s methods and their teammates. Mentally, the team look ready for the battle which is ahead. Behind other teams in points but perhaps more ready to escape than others around the drop zone. Saturday’s three points have provided a more attainable level of hope.


 

Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton: Niasse the panto villain - 5 Things We Learned

Written by Naveed Khan

1 – The Task Ahead is Still Not Impossible

One win in 12 games. A sum of 5 points. And yet, somehow Palace are not cut adrift. There are just 5 points between Palace and the team directly above the drop zone. While the teams around us start to adjust their goals for the season, change their manager and look for a formula, through Frank De Boer’s early sacking, Palace are in some ways better prepared for the next 26 games than some of our relegation rivals. Performances are on the up; key players are back to fitness and a manager who has now had the time to lay down the blueprint for success. Staying up from this position will be a mighty ask – but it is by no means an impossible task.

2 – Dann Needs to Rediscover His Form

Scott Dann played a crucial role in Palace securing Premier League status under Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew. Forming a partnership with Damien Delaney, his prowess at attacking and defending set pieces was vital and while he was never quite up to an England call-up, the form was there. However, aside from the win over Chelsea, it is not form we have seen from him for at least a year; coinciding with him taking the captaincy and him losing Mile Jedinak from in front of him. Many of Palace’s best games since then have come without him the side as Mamadou Sakho, James Tomkins and Martin Kelly have formed partnerships in this time while Sam Allardyce took the captaincy and gave it to Jason Puncheon. These changes were a shot in the arm and sent Palace towards survival last season. Away from his part in Everton’s second goal on Saturday, Dann did not look comfortable throughout. Palace may need similar changes this season to increase the reliability of the back four.

3 – Roy Will Have a Selection Dilemma

In Christian Benteke’s absence, Roy Hodgson has developed a formula which has seen team pick up five points from as many games since the first break he has had with the squad; the performances, it can be argued, deserved a better yield. The working formula has been a narrow 4-4-2 with the two wide midfielders driving centrally at times allowing Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend to move into the channels. The team has looked good going forward in this way and therein is the dilemma – throughout this the it has still been obvious that the team has needed a central focal point. That focal point is back now and Roy has a decision to make – whether he sticks to this shape or not, one of James McArthur, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Townsend or Zaha will need to miss out while another will have to adapt to a different role in the side. Benteke will be central to Palace’s survival chances as he was last season – how Roy adapts to team to accommodate him will be crucial.

4 –Ward’s Return to Diligence

Joel Ward’s Premier League journey with Palace has been pretty up and down. Palace’s best player in the opening to Ian Holloway’s season, being a key component albeit in central midfield and left-back under Pulis and there was momentum to the calls for international recognition. Since then, he has been on rocky ground but a lack of competition meant he remained a starter. However, under Roy Hodgson’s structured approach, Ward seems to be a key beneficiary. More composed than before on a ball, more sure of his role and what is required of him and an increased confidence has seen him make key contributions at the back while the team goes forward. Having Timothy Fosu-Mensah fighting for his spot will have added to his motivation; but the Joel Ward we are seeing now is the one we should have been seeing kicking on from 2013/4. Better late than never; long may it continue.

5 – Positives of the Performance Should Not Be Ignored

Yes, there were frustrations with the penalty award and the mistakes which lead to Everton’s goals. And while we are in a desperate quest for points, possession is scant consolation. However, Saturday’s draw did throw up a number of positives and if this sort of performance is matched going forward, the points will follow. There is a definite structure to the approach to defence and midfield. While the team is not playing with wingers, more wide central midfielders, this has not come at the expense of attacking play. Indeed, the team has dominated possession and chance creation. Twice Palace squandered the lead twice and neither time did the players let their head drop or stop doing the things they were doing well. The base is there. The performance is there. The points will surely come.


 

Tottenham 1-0 Crystal Palace - Solitary Goal Hurts Eagles - Five Things We Learned

Written by Naveed Khan

Crystal Palace came up against a stern test at Wembley against Tottenham, losing by a single goal. Here's Naveed Khan with five lessons we learned. 

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1 – Leaders Need to Emerge

For much of Sunday’s game, Palace were a match for Spurs. Chances came and went while Spurs’ midfield was kept at bay and Harry Kane a shadow of the player he has been for much of this season thanks largely to Scott Dann and Mamadou Sakho. However, while Palace may have been unlucky to lose, a lack of leadership on the pitch is heightened in its appearance when the team went a goal down. Dann is a quiet captain and while Sakho attempts to rally the troops, there is little further up the pitch to do the same.

Our best times as a club have come with a team full of leaders. Nigel Martyn, Andy Thorn, Eric Young, Andy Gray and Ian Wright – all leaders while Geoff Thomas has the armband. Julian Speroni, Damien Delaney, Joe Ledley, Glenn Murray, Marouane Chamakh and Jason Puncheon all showed leadership while Mile Jedinak was in charge. Now the team needs Luka Milivojević, Yohan Cabaye and others to emerge to join Sakho in assisting Dann. With winnable games upcoming, now is the time.

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2 – Schlupp Cannot Afford to be Victim of Versatility

Jeffrey Schlupp was signed by Sam Allardyce for his versatility during an uncertain January Transfer Window. Since then, he has been used at left back, left wing, as part of a midfield and even at centre-back. There is a case to be made for Schlupp being the team’s best left back; and while Frank De Boer did not know Schlupp could play elsewhere, Allardyce and Roy Hodgson have taken advantage of his utility.

He needs to nail down a position in the side and excel in it. The risk otherwise is that Palace do not get to see the best of him. Against Spurs, he was beginning to look lost with the ball and positionally; he cannot afford to be a victim of his versatility.

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3 – Townsend and Loftus-Cheek Need Cutting Edge

Wilfried Zaha has been the key reason for Palace’s points to date, the talisman and the player the team turns to for a moment of brilliance. However, for all of Andros Townsend’s endeavour and Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s ability on the ball, neither has taken the chance to win Palace points where Zaha has either been absent or not on his game.

If Palace are to climb off the bottom of the league, the team’s other key winger and attacking central midfielder need to have a greater impact and end product. At Wembley, while Wilf missed Palace’s best chance, Townsend and Loftus-Cheek did not step up to spark the team. Neither player can hide especially, particularly while the team lacks a striker.

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4 –Team Structure Growing

From the last International Break to this, it is clear that the team has an identity and a structure to it and that players are buying in to what Hodgson and his staff are trying to implement. Striker-less still, Palace have four points from four games and that is, as Roy himself put it, “scant reward” for the performances which has been far removed from the spiritless shambles De Boer had left behind.

Joel Ward is playing with the diligence not seen since Tony Pulis departed, Julian Speroni is ensuring the defenders in front of him are alert and not panicked. There are fewer gaps between the defence and midfield – the club not signing a striker in the summer was bordering on negligent and while the points return demonstrates that, being just one player short of a team capable of getting out of trouble is at this stage a positive sign. 

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5 – Points Needed to Make January Transfer Activity Worthwhile

While there are positives to take in the Spurs defeat, as there was from the Newcastle loss, Palace need points, as Roy has said. It is clear the club needs a striker and goalkeeper at the very least from the January window while there have also been links to central midfielders and wingers.

However, transfer activity will be meaningless and understandably limited if the team is not looking like it is in a position by the time that the window opens that it can get out of the bottom three. There is a stretch of games now where Palace can pick up points – these games must yield points to allow Roy’s squad to be strengthened in January and push on in the second half of the season.

Crystal Palace 2-2 West Ham: Cabaye Crucial to Comeback - 5 Things We Learned

Written by FYP Fanzine

Wilf Zaha saved Palace again with a late, late equaliser against West Ham. Here are 5 things we learned from that game.

1. Crucial Cabaye

While Wilfried Zaha will attract the headlines for his late goal, the catalyst for Palace’s excellent second half performance was Yohan Cabaye who underlined his importance to team. Not only did he come close to equalising with a drive, he had more touches of the ball than any other Palace player (78) with three key passes and an overall accuracy of 86%. As well as his ground coverage, seven tackles and three interceptions demonstrate his all-round impact throughout the match. Injured at the start of the season, he is growing back into the team and with the excellent Luka Milivojević in partnership, Roy Hodgson has the engine room at his disposal to drive Palace up the league.

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2. Lack of Striker Hurting the Team

An excellent second half performance by the team and last gasp leveller should not detract from the issue the draw against the Hammers intensified; Palace’s lack of a striker. The summer transfer window failed in this regard and with Christian Benteke injured much of the team’s excellent attacking play was let down by the lack of a spearhead. Hodgson is working with the tools at his disposal with Andros Townsend joining Zaha as a fluid front two and Bakery Sako adding a presence as well. Hindsight for the game on Saturday it may be, but definitely foresight at the time the window closed but the lack of striker probably cost the Eagles two points.

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3. Loftus-Cheek Needs to Add Endeavour to Ability

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has many attributes that show him to have the potential to be an excellent Premier League central midfielder. He is remarkably strong for a player of his age, he has skill on the ball and an eye for a pass. While some players have a languid style that gives a perception of lack of effort, Loftus-Cheek seems to lack endeavour especially when the team is behind in a game. Numerous times Luka and Cabaye were calling him back and giving him instruction. Palace’s season will be determined by how closely the players follow Roy’s detail in organisation and shape. For Palace’s sake, he cannot afford to go missing. And for his own career, to make the most of his obvious talent, he needs to apply himself to the uglier sides of the game.

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4. Fosu-Mensah’s Versatility Needs to Find a Home

Timothy Fosu-Mensah has in his short Palace career already featured in five different roles. From the right sided centre back in a back three to centre back in a two, then right-back and then substitute appearances in midfield to hold a lead and lastly left-back (moved then back to the right). In each of these roles, he’s shown pace, power and the ability to time a tackle and more importantly maturity beyond his experience. While other players may fit the mould of what Roy is looking for in defenders in terms of diligence and organisational discipline, Fosu-Mensah needs to find a home along that back-line; it will be a waste of his talent (and a loan spot) if he is to be used as a utility player from the bench. 

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5. Team Spirit is Growing

While there were faults with some of the players and deficiencies in the squad, what Hodgson has managed to instil in this squad sooner than many anticipated is team spirit. The sort of spirit which beats the champions at Selhurst. The sort of spirit which is not dampened by a late loss at Newcastle or by being 2-0 down against West Ham. The sort of spirit which draws the fans and players closer together. It is exactly the spirit the team will need to survive this season. If we were to get a point from West Ham, it was done in the best possible way. The talisman scoring in the closing seconds in front of the Holmesdale. The match done; the players and fans celebrate as one. 28 more rounds; the growing team spirit will be critical factor.

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