Palace took Burnley to task with an impressive team performance. Naveed Khan has some thoughts.
1 – Meyer Comes to Life
It took until December, but the hype around summer signing Max Meyer finally saw some justification as the German international ran the show against Burnley. Starting nominally on the left of a narrow midfielder four, his qualities were apparent. Keen to receive the ball, always looking for an attacking option, disciplined in his defensive duties and importantly, took away the reliance the team has on Wilfried Zaha to carry the ball.
This was the first Premier League game in which he has started where Palace were looking to play on the front foot, and it showed. Perhaps Roy Hodgson’s paced introduction of Meyer can be vindicated somewhat; the hope is this is not a one-off and he can be impactful going forward. The chemistry between Max and Wilf was apparent.
2 – Formation Talk Superfluous
It’s been talked about in the stands, on social media and even in previous ‘Palace Ponderings’, but when the players are playing with the confidence and fluidity they did against Burnley, all talk of formation and Roy’s 4-4-2 is superfluous. Certainly when defending, there is a structure akin to 4-4-2, but there isn’t going forward. James McArthur and Meyer often created a midfield box, playing central ahead of Luka Milivojević and Cheikhou Kouyaté.
The full-backs took advantage of this and often played as wing-backs. Wilf and Andros Townsend, nominally ‘strikers’ but both taking turns to attack between centre-backs and full-backs. This fluidity enabled the creation of space and chances and was a dynamic approach against Burnley’s rigidity. The key was the shape recovery – the lining back up as 4-4-2 when the ball was lost. That was an issue for stop-start performances earlier in the season but was critical in the best runs of form last season and was back again on Saturday.
3 – Andros and Jimmy Back
It was great to see both Andros and McArthur get on the scoresheet on Saturday; albeit with very different goals. While the team has been finding its feet slowly this season, neither has hit the form they showed last term where they both made essential contributions to our survival. Playing wide midfield, McArthur was at his best, getting involved in all areas and free to support attacks – he has the team mindset to not do at the detriment of shape. He was able to contribute in ways he could not playing centrally.
Much has been said about Townsend’s lack of end product, but he has grown into this season and came out of Saturday’s game with an assist (in a way showing to fragility of assist statistics) and a contender for goal of the season. It’s been said they both need to contribute more – Saturday showed the benefit of them both being on their game.
4 – Final Ponderings
Wherever you stand on the issues around the introduction of the Singing Section, it was evident even before kick-off that the Holmesdale Fanatics being back in Block B was vital in creating an atmosphere which was lacking this season. The midfield pivot of Milivojevic and Kouyate seems to be getting stronger each game, with the Serbian’s presence allowing Kouyate to move forward as needed and Kouyate allowing his teammate to play a more familiar role; the pivot is what will enable our attacking play to flourish.
James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho were imperious on Saturday, assured in defence, always looking to push the team up and their partnership is up there with the best Palace have had in the Premier League era. Either as individuals or a pair, it is unlikely we could do better at centre back.