Pulling away from the bottom three with a comfortable eight point gap was easier said than done, but what did we learn from sending the opposition back down to the Championship?
1. Palace have developed a worrying habit of starting games painfully slowly. Much of the Eagles’ success last season – especially at home – stemmed from being quick out of the blocks and getting their noses in front early. In fact, the 2017/18 campaign saw Palace score 12 goals inside the opening 30 minutes of games. With seven fixtures remaining this season Palace have managed to find the net just four times in the opening half an hour. Palace were once again too rigid and lacked urgency in the first half against Huddersfield, and could easily have trailed at the interval had it not been for two brilliant saves from Vicente Guaita. Saturday’s first half showing could simply have been a case of anxiety born out of the pressure from losing two big games on the spin, but Palace’s inability to stamp their authority on games early on has been a big problem this season, and one which Roy Hodgson is yet to address.
2. Are Palace a better team with Christian Benteke on the pitch? Michy Batshuayi is undoubtedly a bigger goal threat at this moment in time – as has been demonstrated by his three goals – but one can’t help but wonder whether he’s suited to the lone striker role that Hodgson wants him to play. The Belgian can be quiet for large periods of the game but has a knack for popping up in goal-scoring positions. The question for Palace should be whether they can afford that luxury when they also need a centre forward capable of holding onto the ball long enough for them to get up the pitch. Benteke made a noticeable difference when he came on against Huddersfield, and his mere presence seems to worry opposition defenders while simultaneously creating more space for the likes of Wilfried Zaha to thrive in. This isn’t a call for Batshuayi to be dropped, but with the 25-year-old set to return to Chelsea at the end of the season, perhaps it would be worth starting Benteke in a game or two so he can attempt to rediscover some form ahead of next season.
3. With Palace hosting the league’s bottom side on Saturday, the stage seemed set for Max Meyer to finally stake his claim for a regular place in the starting eleven. The fact that he went on to be hooked at half time doesn’t bode well for his future at the club. No Palace player gave a particularly good account of themselves in the first half, but it was only with the introduction of James McArthur that the home side managed to gain any kind of foothold in the midfield. Palace fans have understandably wanted Meyer to be used more this season, but it’s obvious that he still doesn’t have a clearly defined role in the team. If ever there was an opportunity for Meyer to show his worth, Saturday was it. The fact that he didn’t would suggest that he might find himself once again limited to substitute appearances until the end of the season.
4. I’ve alluded to it already, but Guaita’s pair of saves to deny Chris Löwe were crucial to Palace eventually coming out on top. The Spaniard came in for some harsh criticism after a shaky performance in difficult conditions against Watford, but in both of those first half moments demonstrated why Palace were so keen on bringing him to the club. If either – or even both – of those efforts go in then Palace’s task doubles in size. The fact that the Eagles can now rely on a goalkeeper to bail them out of trouble when they aren’t playing well shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially given some of the incompetence we’ve been subjected to in recent seasons.