What Did We Learn From Victory Over Fulham?
Three games in a week ends unbeaten as the Eagles completed the double over Fulham, but what did we learn from the win?
1. Look at all the strikers! In the space of just a month Palace have somehow gone from being forced to play their wingers up front to having four centre forwards in the squad. Christian Benteke has looked fitter and sharper since returning from injury and his audacious bicycle kick reflected the confidence of a man who appears to have put the struggles of last season behind him. Benteke linked up well with Jordan Ayew, who had his best game in a Palace shirt and similarly looks like a player reborn. Then, of course, came Michy Batshuayi, who in his cameo appearance showed exactly why Palace were so keen to bring him in. The way he created space for himself to shoot in the box was something that we haven’t seen from a Palace striker for some time, and a player with his goalscoring instinct should profit from playing alongside the likes of Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend. Either way, Roy Hodgson now has a selection headache, but a very welcome one at that.
2. For all of the good things Palace now look capable of going forward, it is the back four who have been on top of their game for much of this season. With the exception of one moment in the first half, James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho were once again flawless at the heart of the defence, not allowing Fulham a single shot on target and comfortably dealing with the threat of Aleksandar Mitrovic. Given Palace’s wastefulness in front of goal this season there has been added pressure on the back four to remain watertight. Now, with Palace’s attacking options deepened, the hope is that the forward men can return the favour and alleviate some of that pressure.
3. Jeffrey Schlupp has been made somewhat of a scapegoat this season, but rarely has he let Palace down when called upon. Much of the frustration with Schlupp is likely born out of the fact that he tends to be picked ahead of Max Meyer, who some believe should be starting in midfield every week. Schlupp may not be as technically gifted as the German is on the ball, but in the games that he’s started has proved to be more effective going forward and now has four goals to his name this season. Schlupp joined the club primarily as a left back or a left winger – the fact that his manager has found a different way to utilise him is no reason for the 26-year-old to be unfairly maligned. Perhaps now it’s time to cut Schlupp some slack.
4. Palace finally look like a team capable of winning without Zaha. Fulham might not have been the most testing of opposition, but wins against the West Londoners and Leicester have at least done away with the myth that Palace’s squad has no talent beyond the Ivorian winger. Previous performances without Zaha have been lethargic and absent of cutting edge, but Roy Hodgson deserves credit for the way he set Palace up against Fulham. The Eagles were happy to let Fulham have the ball and invited the away side to try and break them down, consequently leaving space for Palace to break into when they won the ball back. Fulham might have enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but Palace were much more effective with it.
5. It’s time for Palace to start looking up instead of down. The gap to the bottom three is still only four points, but with a strong squad and some winnable games coming up the Eagles should be looking to secure their Premier League status as soon as possible. There is no doubt that Palace have been underachieving so far this season, and now that Hodgson is equipped with a fully fit slate of players and a couple of reinforcements there can be no excuses for not pushing towards the top half of the table.