What Did We Learn From The Draw With Everton?
There may not have been any goals and it ended in a share of the spoils but there was plenty to take from the game even though there were not many highlights aired. So, what did we learn?
1. Palace didn’t draw with Everton because of Roy Hodgson’s stubbornness or negative tactics, but because the away side were able to find a way of nullifying any threat the Eagles might pose. Palace were simply unable to beat Everton’s energetic press, while Michael Keane was a rare foil for Christian Benteke in the air, which meant that more often than not the home team were restricted from making any meaningful advances up the pitch. Factor in Idrissa Gueye’s constant hounding of Wilfried Zaha and it’s no real surprise that Palace struggled to get into the game. The reaction to Saturday was intensified because of our turgid home form this season. However, let’s not forget that Everton have waltzed past Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and West Ham in recent weeks – to expect Palace to transform their style of play overnight and run riot was a little naive. It was clear from early on that this wasn’t going to be Palace’s day, and if you aren’t going to win the game, the next best thing is to make sure you don’t lose.
2. Having said that, this was arguably Palace’s most disappointing performance at home this season from an attacking perspective. To not muster a single shot on target was extremely disheartening, as was the home side’s inability to get players up in support of Christian Benteke as they did at Arsenal. At least in the goalless draws at home to Newcastle and Cardiff earlier this season it felt as if Palace were knocking on the door, but here they hardly set foot on the doorstep. Everton obviously pose a sterner challenge than two sides in the bottom half, but Hodgson could have at least changed the personnel or the system – as he did at half time against Huddersfield – once it became apparent that Palace were finding it difficult to create anything in the final third.
3. Vicente Guaita is starting to accumulate quite the collection of saves. The Spaniard can now add his strong arm to deny Cenk Tosun to his equally instinctive stops at home to Leicester and Cardiff City. It’s not often that Palace have been able to rely on their goalkeeper to bail them out in recent years, but Guaita now appears to be on a one-man mission to make up for that lost time. The Eagles have been linked with Jack Butland in recent weeks, but if Guaita’s performances this season are anything to go by, Palace would be better advised spending that money elsewhere.
4. The random agendas against some Palace players are genuinely a little strange – and it’s even more peculiar to raise them after a draw in a dead rubber match. The referee had barely reached the third blow of his final whistle on Saturday before tweets were surfacing directed at James McArthur, Luka Milivojevic and Christian Benteke. Those three players had been widely heralded less than a week earlier for their performances in the 3-2 win at Arsenal, so which one is it? Regardless of what you think of certain members of this squad, their contributions this season and their value to the club going forward, many of them have played a key part in where Palace currently stand, which is as a solid, mid-table Premier League outfit. It’s hardly the fault of players like Benteke and McArthur that they are deemed good enough to start every week at the moment, nor is it their problem that there is currently no better alternative. What’s clear, though, given Palace’s current league position, is that a number of those players being slated still have something to offer this squad in the Premier League.
5. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has rightly been the defender singled out for praise on a number of occasions this season, but Scott Dann and Martin Kelly have really stepped up when Palace have needed their old guard most. The pair added another clean sheet on Saturday to resolute performances away at Newcastle and Arsenal, and both have safely navigated what many feared could have been a tricky end to the season following the injuries to Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins. Kelly and Dann might not be blessed with the same ball-playing ability as the two men who have kept them out of the team this season, but when it comes to backs-to-the-wall defending and grinding out a result, they’re still more than reliable as a centre back partnership.