An efficient Big Sam style victory over Watford makes it three games, four goals and three clean sheets on the bounce.
The first time since the Pulis days that Palace can boast such effective rearguard action which bodes well as the season enters its twilight period.
Plaudits are rightly going the way of the manager, who after a turbulent opening few games has seen his methods take hold. The presence of the the imperious Mamadou Sakho has helped provide a formidable barrier that now greets Palace’s opponents.
But while pundits and Match Of The Day analysis focus on the solidity and organisation of the defence, all eyes at Selhurst were transfixed on a truly special talent in our midst.
Words are beginning to fail most of us about Wilfried Zaha’s brilliance. So consistent have his performances been, all superlatives leveled at him this year have been exhausted.
Zaha operates at levels above everyone around him. When the ball is at his feet, Selhurst purrs with excitement. The elegance of his touch and terrifying pace get people to their feet.
It was on display throughout the deserved 1-0 victory over Watford from the beginning. Within minutes, Zaha’s threat had thrown the visitors into disarray as they struggled to contain the talented winger’s advances. They stopped him the only way they knew they could throughout the day – illegally.
Is there a greater respect a team can show an opposing player than taking turns to repeatedly foul him? Every week Zaha is pushed, pulled and kicked by defenders incapable of getting near him and, yet, every week he prevails.
At a canter he has been Palace’s standout player this season. Zaha has responded to any criticism or questioning of his abilities by putting in performances on the pitch.
Criticism that comes Zaha’s way from pundits is often rooted in laziness. An increasing point of frustration for Palace supporters is the refusal of pundits and opposition fans alike to change the narrative that they attached to Zaha when his move to Manchester United didn’t work out.
“He Has No End Product”
Zaha this season has 5 goals and 6 assists to his name. Were it not for some profligate finishing from Christian Benteke against Watford, he would have more. But simple goals and assists statistics, as impressive as they are in a struggling side this season, don’t do his attacking effectiveness justice.
He makes things happen. His pace is a vital cog in turning defence into attack and it is so often the case that Zaha allows the team to make huge territorial ground by stretching scrambling full backs. His surges forward often set up the opportunity for Palace to launch an attacking set-piece when he frequently wins free kicks. It was telling that the free kick that led to the goal was a result of Zaha’s threat, which saw him unceremoniously taken out by Sebastian Prodl.
My, how Wilf loves playing against Watford. Even Palace’s match winner Troy Deeney admitted Zaha was ‘the outstanding player on the pitch’.
“He doesn’t do enough when he doesn’t have the ball”
Bollocks. This could be perhaps the most infuriating of the criticism that comes his way, as nothing could be further from the truth. His work rate is phenomenal, and part of the reason he has become such a devastating attacking threat lies in the defensive harrying he repeatedly does.
It’s a common sight this year to see Wilf powering back to support the defence, utilising his power and strength to unsettle opposing attackers. Against a Watford side playing with two advanced wing backs, Zaha was everywhere, very often starting attacks from inside his own half.
Since making his debut at 16, there was a knowledge at Selhurst he would go on to do great things. The reality for those lucky enough to see him now is that he still will do great things, but at a level far more befitting of his talents.
It seems increasingly unlikely that Palace will be able to retain his services next season, and I don’t think there are many who will begrudge him a move to a bigger club. As devastating as it would be to not see him in the red and blue, his ability deserves the grandest stage.
Like Romelu Lukaku at Everton, Zaha is about to outgrow Palace. Tottenham, repeatedly linked with a big money bid in the summer, seem the likeliest of destinations.
Which is why now is the time to cherish what we are fortunate enough to witness. A prodigy like Zaha at Palace is a once in a generational thing. While he might reach the true heights of his talent elsewhere, we will look back and appreciate how much of a privilege it was to see him in full flow.
And sure, while you can never predict what will happen in football, I’m going to savour the last five homes games of the season. For it may be a long time before we see an academy product of Zaha’s calibre light up our Saturday afternoons again.