Zaha Is The Target As He Is The Main Man
Stop Wilfried Zaha and you stop Palace.
That is the opinion of most that play the Eagles at the moment and for the most part, it is true.
Since his outburst to the media about the harsh treatment that has been handed out to him by the some opposition already this season, his performances have not been up to the usual level we have come to expect from the jewel in our crown.
That just proves another point, in that we simply cannot continue to rely on Zaha to be that man. He will miss and have quieter games which is why it is all the more important that the rest of team step up and contribute.
While the opposition throw their attention towards Wilf by putting two and sometimes three players on him to defuse any potential impact he has on the game, there needs to be some thought about using the space that is created as a result.
Wilf has rightly become fed up with the challenges that he has had to put up with, there have been three dangerous challenges on him already this season, and neither have been punished as they should have been. With Troy Deeney stating publicly that Watford targeted Zaha in the game at Vicarage Road, it is clear for all to see how such a threat is dealt with and not always by means within the laws of the game.
We would be foolish to think that did not happen but perhaps Wilf was wrong to state publicly his frustrations, but it is wrong that such a player should have to put up with tackles that could well do serious damage. Just last season Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola told the media that talented players should be protected, ironically that was after the goalless draw at Selhurst Park which ended their winning run and saw Kevin de Bruyne stretchered off after a ‘tactical’ challenge by Jason Puncheon.
Guardiola was not particularly scathing about what happened on the pitch that New Years Eve afternoon, he stuck up for players like de Bruyne, Sane and even Zaha with his comments. And he was right. Leroy Sane was on the receiving end of an awful challenge in a cup tie against Cardiff City which the German was lucky not to spend a lengthy period out of the game.
This is not all about Wilf. His comments have had a negative effect on his performances since he aired his annoyance but you can understand it after the shocking challenges at Watford and Huddersfield. This is more about the safety of players in the game, the ones that are targeted as a threat.
Just look at the tackle that took place in the win for Spurs against Cardiff at the weekend. While it was not two footed or looked like causing injury, it was nowhere near the ball and premeditated. The punishment was right on that occasion, a red card for what was effectively a professional foul, albeit just over the half way line which made it all the more ridiculous.
The tackles that Wilf has complained about have been worse but were only punished with a booking. Incredibly, Wilf himself was booked in both games, shortly after the challenges he was on the receiving end of, but for petty fouls. The handing out of a booking does not fit the crime when you compare them. A booking is a booking, no matter what the type of offence the officials hand it out for, but there should be a level and more consistency.
It is different for sides like Manchester City and Liverpool to a certain respect. If a side targets de Bruyne as the main threat, there are still the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, David Silva and others to worry about. For Palace, this is simply not the case but really should be. Andros Townsend is capable as is Max Meyer (when he has the opportunity) along with Patrick van Aanholt and Aaron Wan-Bissaka when bombing forward. When Wilf is not playing or, more importantly, is having an off day as he has done recently, others need to step up and take advantage of the space that is available by the attention he receives.
The greatest players around have had to deal with the same challenges throughout their career. The difference is that the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have learnt to adapt their game in a certain way that sees them avoid such challenges with fleet of foot and quick thinking. Wilf, of course, still has alot to learn and we are not comparing like for like here. It is merely a look at how players have had to change and become better players for it, by riding the challenge or taking advantage of the cynical and dangerous tackles that come their way.
Wilf is right, he does deserve more protection, but then so do all those great players out there. Similar to the way goalkeepers receive a lot more protection than outfield players. Touch them and the whistle is blown and while it should not have to quite come to that level of protection, officials do need to be wary of the dangerous challenges that are becoming more frequent.
But most of all, Palace really need to find a way of playing without Wilf.