Another defeat at home in such similar circumstances as others is becoming more and more frustrating. Here are our musings from the loss.
1. It’s been the story of Palace’s season: one step forward, two steps back. Many thought the Eagles had turned a corner after the win at Wolves, but for every Wolves away this campaign there has been a Watford at home almost immediately after. It’s difficult to get annoyed after a game in which the Eagles created so many chances, but it’s harder to accept when it’s been a similar story on a number of occasions already this season. Palace have now got just two points to show from home fixtures against Southampton, Newcastle, Wolves, Cardiff and Watford, which simply isn’t good enough for a team with any aspirations of challenging for the top ten. It is that lack of consistency and an inability to score when on top in games which is preventing Palace from pulling away from the bottom three.
2. There was an overwhelming sense of dread that swept over Selhurst Park as Vicente Guaita went down holding his calf. Wayne Hennessey had shown signs of improvement earlier in the season, but now that we have experienced life with Guaita it has only served to highlight that the Welshman isn’t good enough for this level. Hennessey came for and then watched the ball sail over his head for Watford’s equaliser, and although James Tomkins could have done better tracking Craig Cathcart at the back post, the goal undoubtedly stemmed from the goalkeeper’s indecision. Tom Cleverley’s jaw-dropping volley would have gone in with two men in goal, but it’s become clear that Guaita has a more calming influence between the sticks, while Hennessey only seems to instil panic. Ben Foster, in contrast, has made a string of top-class saves against Palace this season that have probably been worth six points to Watford.
3. Palace are playing pedestrian, safety-first football that is almost solely focused on ball retention. The home side spent most of the first half keeping possession around the back four, but that rarely advanced into areas where they could hurt the Hornets. It was only in the second half when Watford came out chasing the game that Palace were able to revert to their natural game, exploiting space left by the opposition and breaking forward at pace. What Roy Hodgson has done is instil a conservative brand of football which is well-suited to away games but will rarely translate into points against sides who come to Selhurst Park to frustrate Palace. The former England manager must learn to change the approach for home matches or else teams will be happy to sit off Palace in the knowledge that the Eagles lack the creative guile to break them down.
4. A big problem with the way Hodgson wants Palace to play at home is the midfield. Luka Milivojevic, Cheikhou Kouyate and James McArthur are all having decent enough seasons, but none are renowned for their ability to unpick defences. Milivojevic and Kouyate in particular come deep to pick up the ball and often do so with their back to goal, meaning their next pass either goes sideways or backwards. Not only does this delay Palace moving the ball past the halfway line, but it also means that once the ball makes its way up to the front three they are often isolated and being marked by two defenders. What’s more is that eventually, because there is no link between the midfield and the front three, Milivojevic and Kouyate get sucked forward in an attempt to make something happen, which then leaves the back four exposed. This happened a number of times against Watford, which allowed too much space for Gerard Deulofeu to wreak havoc on the several occasions that Palace sacrificed possession in dangerous areas. One solution would be to find a place in the team for Max Meyer, who would take up advanced positions allowing Milivojevic and Kouyate to sit. For now, though, Hodgson doesn’t fancy the German for whatever reason, and Palace’s starting eleven is imbalanced.
5. Christian Benteke looked sharp when he came on. The Belgian’s struggles over the past year are no secret, but he is the best centre forward Palace have and the Eagles are a better side with him in it. The 28-year-old won a number of aerial battles during his short cameo and occupied both Watford centre backs, which going forward will afford more space to both Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend. Put simply, when Benteke’s fit, he should be Palace’s starting striker – we can only hope now that he can rediscover his goalscoring form of the 2016/17 season.