Zaha Likened To Sterling, Criticised For Anything And Everything He Does

Domestic football is back this weekend and it is a tough return to action for the Eagles who host defending champions Manchester City. TEB had a chat with the guys at Blue Moon Podcast this week to find out about their season so far and thoughts ahead of the game.

Q. Looking back, how do you rank last season now that the dust has settled?

Last season is the single greatest in City’s history, so even now, it’s a pleasure to have been there to see it. I can’t explain how stressful it was, though: You might think watching a team win week after week is easy (and it was in 2017/18), but when they’re chasing or being chased by another team that is doing the same, there is SO MUCH tension. It made tight games like the win over Burnley, Leicester and Spurs in the run-in almost unbearable at times – but, as a result, the payoff of winning the league is incredible. Good ol’ dopamine!

Q. How was the summer transfer window for the club – were all needs addressed?

City will never get any sympathy on this because of their riches and spending power, but a lot of fans think City messed up last summer. It was a big risk to let Vincent Kompany go and not bring in a defender – as we’ve seen this season, when Aymeric Laporte and John Stones got injuries. Fernandinho is fine at centre-back… but his screening is sorely missed in midfield, so it’s left City open and exposed – with Norwich, Wolves and Everton all finding ways to cause big problems.

Q. Is there a view that the Champions League should be the target this season at the expense of the league?

It really depends who you ask. The club – I imagine – are desperate to win it, but the fans… less so. There is about a one-third/two-thirds split on this, with most preferring domestic success again as the main aim. I fall into that category, too: As hard as the Champions League has been for City to crack, it is ultimately a cup competition, so a couple of bad performances can do for you – just as a series of seven or eight good ones can win it. The League, especially while a team as good as Liverpool are in it, is a much better yardstick of displays over a season. No City fan would be disappointed to win the Champions League, of course, but for a sizeable number it’s the second priority this year again.

Q. Talking about the Premier League, it has not been the start you expected has it?

It’s crazy how losing one player can do the damage it has done, but that’s City’s fault for not addressing it. With Laporte our until the new year at least, there will be tough games because of the knock-on effect. Fernandinho isn’t there doing his protecting job, Ilkay Gundogan is being asked to be a bit more cautious as a result – while David Silva’s age is catching up with him slightly and slowing him down, and Rodri is still getting used to life in the Premier League. City would probably have coped had it been just Laporte injured, too – but when the list keeps also including Stones, Benjamin Mendy, and Kevin De Bruyne, it’s put too much pressure on players like Nicolas Otamendi or Gundogan all at the same time.
Pep Guardiola hasn’t helped himself, either. He’s tinkered with his set-up a bit to try and stop opposition counter-attacks as a result of those absentees – and it ended up playing straight into Wolves’ hands, for instance.
At this stage, given the fixtures, I’d have expected City to be closer to Liverpool – as it stands, they’re going to need a run of results to get close, now.

Q. Last season was always going to be hard to match, but does that expectation present it’s own difficulties among the fan base?

I’d actually say not really. I think few expected a 98-point season off the back of a 100-point season, so I don’t think many would have demanded to see the same sort of trophy-haul and points total again as a necessity for a successful season. It’s also crucial to remember that the worst period City have ever had (dropping to the third tier and facing financial ruin without a playoff win that year) came in 1999, which is both in living memory for a majority of fans AND it coincides with City’s rivals’ best ever period, as Manchester United won the treble.
All of that combined makes an interesting mentality now: Can you be upset at losing to Wolves and Norwich with bad performances because, 20 years ago, you were paying dreadful football against York or Northampton and the local derby was against Macclesfield? That team in 1999, though, hadn’t had ยฃ400m spent on it…
So expectations among City fans are quite unique in that sense and I think a lot of supporters still struggle to compartmentalise all of those different, conflicting, feelings. I suspect if City fall further behind Liverpool in the coming weeks, pre-season expectations of a third Premier League in a row may be reassessed and that one-third/two-thirds split on the Champions League May get closer – assuming City are still in it beyond February.

Q. One to watch for City this season?

You already know the headline-makers, it’s no secret. So I’d pick Phil Foden (if Guardiola gives him some more minutes, which is something frustrating fans – especially as City haven’t looked very creative in their recent defeats to Norwich and Wolves). Foden doesn’t look like a teenager in this City team and, when he was playing a few games in the run-in last year, he was being criticised the same as others without the caveat that he was “still learning”. He’s a great little player.
Keep an eye of Riyad Mahrez, too. He’s been quietly one of City’s best players this season, after a difficult first year. He’s had to adapt because he’s playing nothing like the same role he did at Leicester.

Q. If you could pick one Palace player to sign, who would it be and why?

At the moment, Gary Cahill. He looks like he’s been an inspirational signing so far and Palace’s defensive record this season is great. And, y’know, City have a few defensive issues, as I’ve said… Guardiola would demand he play from the back, though, and I don’t remember from his Chelsea days if he particularly did that.

Q. Name a player from each side that you believe will be a threat in this game?

For City, there’s so many options… but I’m going for Mahrez. Since coming back from the summer, he’s been in great form and looks a much more settled team player. He’s got a wicked delivery into the box, so his crosses aren’t percentage balls and they are aimed at specific areas, where the dangerous players will be breaking to, and he’s added a series of goals to his game this season, a couple from free kicks, too.
For Palace, it has to be Wilfred Zaha. He’s very much like Raheem Sterling was a few years back, in the sense that he’s being criticised for anything and everything he does (which is part of an institutional problem in both football and wider society, which culminates in scenes like we saw in Bulgaria this week – but that’s another story) – but the truth is, he causes so many teams so many problems. With City’s defence held together by sticky tape, I’m not really looking forward to facing his movement, his pace, and his threat, especially in one-on-ones with players like Otamendi on the counter.

Q. Perhaps you could share your views on what you expected from Palace this season and the season so far?

I’m not really sure, to be honest. I read that things didn’t go well in the transfer market in the summer and that Roy Hodgson had spoken out about it – but then I also see that Palace, certainly in August, had taken more points in 2019 than any team outside the top two. They’re also better than City at home this season, so something is obviously going right and Hodgson definitely isn’t getting the credit he deserves. I expected a lower-mid table finish before a ball was kicked and I suspect I’m wrong about that…

Q. Your prediction?

Not easy for City at all. I’m going for a 2-1 away win – simply because City NEED to win, because United are taking nothing off Liverpool on Sunday. It’s almost do or die time for Guardiola chasing the leaders so far.

Donations are still accepted following the Marathon March in aid of the Palace For Life Foundation last weekend. To donate, head to our Just Giving page.

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