Despite the impressive win at Anfield at the weekend, the question still remains regarding the best striking option for Palace.
The fact that our orthodox strikers have more red cards than goals in the league is pretty startling and we are the only team in the Premier League not to have a forward score for us yet. Even bottom club Aston Villa do not have this issue, with Gestede scoring three for them thus far.
This presents Alan Pardew with a selection dilemma as, without goals to base his team choice on, he must judge the strikers on the other assets of their play. Admittedly, it has been rare for us to have all our strikers available at the same time, but what is our most effective forward line when everyone is fit?
In this article, my second for TEB, I will analyse the various options and put them in order of who I believe suits our play the most.
Admittedly, we have not seen the best of Wickham yet, with only four appearances so far against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Although he only got a little under half an hour against Liverpool, I thought he displayed his strengths reasonably well, holding the ball up and hassling the back four, and it was similiar to his performance at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.
This allows the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha to get involved more in the game, which is undoubtedly when we are at our strongest. If he can gain a little bit more confidence and stay injury-free, I feel that he could push on and become our next Glenn Murray. He has the physicality and touch to do so, but it still has to be seen whether he can add more goals to his game. Eleven goals in eighty-two Premier League appearances is, let us face it, appalling. However, he suits our system the most out of all the options simply because he has the ability to utilise our strong wingplay.
Behind Wickham in my pecking order is Gayle. Now, I have not always been the most vocal supporter of Gayle but after his performance against Manchester United I started to reconsider. It was, without doubt, his best lone performance up front in a Palace shirt. We have all seen the pictures of him out-jumping Fellaini, and he was linking the play more efficiently as well. Despite no goals in the league so far this season, he is the best finisher at the club and can be clinical when he has a sight of goal.
The problem with Gayle is that he does not have the nous to worry top defenders on a regular basis. On average, he has won two aerial duels a match which is the same as Wickham but aside from the United game, I have not seen him troubling defences enough by not running the channels or bringing others into the game.
However, when or if the perennially injured Marouane Chamakh returns, Gayle’s effectiveness is likely to improve. Chamakh could hassle defences and play the more physical game, whilst Gayle could concentrate on getting into goal-scoring positions, which is what he does best. This is a massive ‘if’ though, considering how fragile Chamakh’s hamstrings are. If you threw Gayle into the era where the 4-4-2 formation was more popular at the top level, he would undoubtedly succeed. He has made it into second in my list through the performance against United. More of that please Dwight.
The game against Liverpool showed that the option of Bolasie as a striker can work in certain situations. At times, he teamed up with Bakary Sako, Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon to put the pressure on Sakho, Skrtel and Lovren extremely well and our play therefore was fast-paced and exciting. On the other hand, he has all of Gayle’s downfalls when he plays the role and we struggle to get men into the box. At least Gayle’s first though is always to get into a goalscoring position. With Yannick, he often drifts out to his natural position leaving us with no options to look to in the middle, giving the central defenders a generally easy match. If our wingers can cause as much havoc as they did against Liverpool it can work as defenders are dragged out of position to combat the threat and spaces appear so they can attack the box. An out and out striker like Wickham or Gayle is undoubtedly the better option, but the experiment can work on occasion.
Patrick Bamford/Fraizer Campbell
There is nothing to separate these two, and they are rightly at the bottom of the list. They are both highly ineffective and do not have many strengths to offer to the team at this level.
I was happy with the signing of Bamford due to his superb form for Middlesbrough last season. He looked like he had all the qualities to be a top striker, but in reality none of them are up to scratch. The very fact that Pardew would rather play a winger up front than these two is testament to how poor they have been. Bamford may improve with game-time, but we cannot afford to carry any passengers if we want to improve on last season’s tenth place finish. There is the option to terminate his loan after six months and I would be shocked if both parties did not agree to use this clause. A team like Bournemouth may be able to offer him more appearances, and he might start to shine. Not for us though. As for Campbell, the less said the better. Harsh maybe but he is a Championship level player at best.
With the news emerging that Gayle is set to be offered a new three year contract by the club, it looks like he is staying for the duration. For the more cynical amongst us, it may be a method to maximise his sale price but, assuming he stays past January, it still only leaves us with two proper strikers who have not got a goal in the league in around three months of football.
The winger’s inconsistencies do not help, but for a club who are hoping to break into the top eight, I believe we should have a striker who can create chances for himself when the wingers are not firing on all cylinders.
Charlie Austin received minimal service last season but still came out with eighteen goals, which shows it can be done. Wickham remains the best option at the moment, and we are all surely hoping he comes good, but if he has not done so by January, this is an area that needs looking at.