After another Premier League game at Selhurst Park, we are still waiting for our first Palace goal. Here is what else we learnt from the disappointing defeat to newcomers Wolves.
1. Roy Hodgson is trying to turn Palace into something they’re not. Hark back to the end of last season and the Eagles were pressing high up the pitch to win the ball back, breaking at speed and carving out one goal-scoring opportunity after another. The performance against Wolves was the complete antithesis of that. Palace are trying to be too intricate, building slowly from deep without either the midfield or the forward players to do so. There is no movement off the ball and a complete lack of urgency, meaning teams can afford to sit behind the ball in the knowledge that we don’t have the ability to break them down. It’s becoming mind-numbing to watch and is simultaneously neutralising the threat of Wilfried Zaha. With this group of players, our strength has always been getting the ball wide and doing so quickly, so why Hodgson has chosen now to upset the applecart has left all of us scratching our heads. Managers have tried to transform Palace in the past – it only tends to end one way.
2. Players I’d prefer to see start ahead of Jeffrey Schlupp: Max Meyer, Cheikhou Kouyate, Jason Puncheon. The first of these five things makes the decision to drop Meyer – one of Palace’s few bright sparks against Bournemouth – all the more difficult to understand. We’re now eight games into the season and Hodgson still doesn’t know his best starting eleven – yet he’s persisting with turgid team selections rather than picking the players capable of turning our form around. A midfield of Luka Milivojevic, James McArthur and Schlupp sounds like the kind of makeshift trio we would have been forced into using during last year’s injury crisis – it’s a midfield devoid of the creativity needed to beat teams that come to Selhurst Park with the intention of making it difficult for us. In Meyer and Kouyate, Palace have two players who are not only going to add steel to the midfield, but also have the ability to unlock well organised defences. Hodgson could have been forgiven last season when he didn’t have the resources to make changes. Now he does, it’s time to use them.
3. Palace are sleepwalking towards a relegation battle they shouldn’t be anywhere near. The Eagles only have one point to show for games against Southampton, Watford, Bournemouth, Wolves and Newcastle – and are still yet to find the net at home. What’s most worrying is that average teams seem to be eeking points out of the South Londoners without having to play very well. Palace are now set to embark upon a far less favourable run of fixtures and could easily find themselves in the relegation zone at the end of it, which is difficult to fathom given some of the quality Hodgson has at his disposal.
4. When Christian Benteke isn’t playing, Zaha and Andros Townsend should be starting up front. For all his goal-scoring flaws, Benteke links play well and provides an extra yard of space for Zaha in a way that none of Palace’s other strikers can – some fans have even started to admit that they miss him. For one reason or another, Jordan Ayew hasn’t taken his chance, Alexander Sorloth clearly isn’t ready for the Premier League and Connor Wickham isn’t Superman. The Eagles instantly looked more dangerous as soon as Zaha and Townsend were reunited through the middle with Meyer and Kouyate operating around them – the most alarming thing was that it took Hodgson eighty minutes to realise that this was the team that we should have started with.
5. Despite all the above, all is not lost. We know that these players are capable of more than what they’re currently showing – as long as they’re used in a system geared towards their strengths. Hodgson now has two weeks to figure out a way to incorporate Meyer and Kouyate into the starting eleven, rediscover how to get the best out of Zaha, and lift the general mood within the squad. If he isn’t capable of that, then it might be time to hit the panic button.