Palace toiled but couldn't find the winner in what was a close game at Selhurst Park. Here are Naveed Khan's five ponderings about Palace...
1 – Meyer Has to Start
The ‘Meyer of London’ joined in the summer with a degree of anticipation and excitement; a young international footballer with the ability to play a number of midfield roles. Anyone who has seen Max Meyer’s progress in Germany would have seen his dynamism going forward and pragmatism as he adapted to a deeper role. With Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek no longer at Roy Hodgson’s disposal, Meyer appeared to be a player who could fill the shoes of either.
Thus far, he has taken Lee Chung-Yong’s place on the bench with little justification for not starting given the nature of performances this season. It was no coincidence that last season, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend came alive when Loftus-Cheek was back to fitness (who in turn was impactful because of the work Cabaye did). The team is clearly missing exactly the sort of player Meyer is. He simply has to start.
2 – McArthur is a Conundrum
James McArthur is the prime example of a rejuvenated footballer; surplus to the team which stayed up under Sam Allardyce, his versatility and work rate were embraced by Roy and he was key to last season’s survival. This season, he has again done little wrong. The conundrum comes from how best McArthur fits into the team’s shape.
In a pair with Luka Milivojević, the midfield was left exposed at times. A three with Luka and Cheikhou Kouyaté, is functional but without the guile that Meyer would bring. Wide in a narrow four could be where he fits best though with all players fit would mean leaving out one of Meyer or Townsend. There may be worse problems to have for Roy, but McArthur’s importance in the eyes of Roy makes him a conundrum when the best XI is being picked.
3 – Attacking Shape Needs to be Based Around Wilf
With Christian Benteke injured, the options to be either a lone striker in 4-3-3 or play alongside Wilf in 4-4-2 are Jordan Ayew, Alexander Sørloth and Andros Townsend; each having their advocates. However, what is clear is that the option picked cannot be on its his own merits as a forward. Whatever their goal-scoring records, whatever their playing style, the one picked has to be the one who allows the team to get the most out of Wilf.
The first manager who did this was Allardyce – moving Wilf between playing left, right and central depending on the opponent to ensure he was most effective. Roy has similarly reduced the defensive role Wilf has to let him focus on what he does best. On Saturday, neither Ayew or Sørloth played in a way to give Wilf the space he needs and Benteke was missed. To an extent, talk about who plays with Wilf and formation is superfluous – it needs to be Wilf centric for the good of the team.
4 – Tomkins and Sakho Partnership is Key
With only one defeat with James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho starting as a centre-back pairing, their importance goes without saying. The results when just one of them starts points to it being about them as a partnership rather than individuals – with either playing alongside Scott Dann or Martin Kelly, the results do not compare. Against Newcastle, they were critical – all too often teams like Palace can dominate a game but lose against the run of play due to a defensive lapse.
This never looked likely on Saturday, with both dominating defensively, being comfortable with the ball and vitally, they kept their concentration by communicating throughout. They bring the best out of the full backs and importantly, Wayne Hennessey has a greater assurance behind them. In their way, they are as important to the team as Wilf.
5 – Andros Townsend Continues to be Undervalued
Much has been said about Andros Townsend ‘needing to do more’ and on Saturday, walking away from the game these frustrations were again being voiced. To view his role in how Roy has the team set up on the simple basis of a goals/assists output is to ignore his contribution as part of an effective team unit. Playing on the right side, he has helped in the development of Aron Wan-Bissaka, playing up front his runs with and without the ball helped make Wilf more influential.
Judging purely on goals and assists does not paint the true picture of him – having a more direct or dynamic winger may be more ‘exciting’ but would not be to the benefit of team whole. Against Newcastle, however, he did have an impact going forward – four shots, three key passes and five crosses (of which one should definitely have resulted in a goal ergo an assist for the people judging on that basis). He is an important part of the team and should be valued as such.