Another three points has brought the points tally up to a very respectable number after just eight games. Such a start to the season is something we have not been accustomed to but here is what we learnt from the win at the London Stadium.
1. In the pub before the game I overheard a West Ham fan confidently predict a 3-1 win for the home side. “Yeah, we’ll batter them today,” his friend promptly agreed – and they won’t have been the only ones. It was, of course, only pub chat, but it was also emblematic of the fact that some teams and their supporters continue to underestimate Palace away from home. The Eagles might lack some of the star power and big money signings that decorate the Hammers’ squad, but each player has a clearly defined role that by the time the game kicks off looks like second nature to them. Indeed, Palace’s win in East London was not the product of a moment of individual brilliance or luck, but because of a well thought out plan that was well executed by all 11 players working in tandem. It might not always be pretty, but it’s difficult to argue with the results.
2. I got a lot of stick for not listing Vicente Guaita – or Guita, as a lot of our fans still spell it – in the man of the match poll on Twitter. I thought including the Spaniard would suggest that he had been making save after save, which he had not, or that Palace were under the cosh for the entire game, which they certainly were not. That being said, his stunning point-blank stop to deny Sébastien Haller in the first half was as important a contribution as either goal Palace eventually scored. On top of that, the 32-year-old’s general command of his penalty area is an understated quality, and one that has a calming effect on the rest of the team, as was apparent in the closing stages when Palace saw out the game. On reflection, maybe it was harsh not to give Guaita a nod for man of the match; but it was perhaps because we are now becoming accustomed to him performing to that level week in, week out.
3. Gary Cahill has brought a winning mentality to Palace. The former Chelsea man has been a genuine revelation this season, and on Saturday he once again brought the absolute best out of the three other defenders around him. Martin Kelly reinforced that he is currently the best partner for Palace’s latest defensive recruit; Joel Ward defended for his life; and – minus West Ham’s goal – Patrick van Aanholt had his best game of the season. The way Cahill celebrates every goal and every win shows that his appetite to succeed is still there, and Palace look set to be the benefactors of the 33-year-old’s willingness to prove that he was written off too early by his former club. There will be calls for him to be made captain permanently, but you get the sense that Cahill will be leading by example on the pitch whether he’s wearing the armband or not.
4. James McArthur has proved his value to this side ever since missing the game against Tottenham Hotspur. The Scotsman had a slightly different, deeper role to play in the absence of Luka Milivojevic, but he, Cheikhou Kouyate and James McCarthy – who didn’t look out of place for someone who hasn’t started a Premier League game since January 2018 – combined well throughout to keep the ball moving quickly when Palace were in possession. The two Maccas and Kouyate were also instrumental in preventing West Ham from dictating the pace of the game. Palace’s midfield three constantly harried Declan Rice and Mark Noble, which led to plenty of turnovers in possession and also allowed Palace to control the game more in the second half. The midfield battle was always likely to be crucial in this game given how much both teams rely on getting the ball wide quickly – the fact Palace came out on top in that department is a major reason they won the game.
5. When the final whistle sounded on Saturday, Palace found themselves fourth in the league with Burnley narrowly behind them in fifth. That is no longer the case after Sunday’s games, but it goes to show that constantly churning through managers and splurging cash to overhaul your squad is not always the answer. Everton, now languishing in the bottom three, are perhaps the best current example of this, while plenty of others have failed to reap the benefits of overspending. As the season runs its course, Palace will likely need to address the weak areas of their squad, while it could still prove that teams such as West Ham and Everton are better equipped to challenge for the top eight. But for now, at least, the likes of Palace and Burnley are being rewarded for stability, for putting faith in the ideas of their managers and their ability to get those across to a settled squad.
Some of the team here at TEB are embarking on the Marathon March in aid of the Palace For Life Foundation. To donate, please head to our Just Giving page to pledge your support. Full coverage of the event will be on our social media challenges.