The Eagles suffered a second home league defeat of the season against leicester at the weekend, but what did we learn from the loss? Here are our thoughts.
1. It didn’t feel like Palace had been massively outplayed on Sunday, but the result did go some way towards highlighting the difference in attacking quality between the two sides. The first half was even, with both teams posing an obvious threat on the counter attack without hugely bombarding the opposition penalty area. However, there was always a sense that a Leicester goal could come at any moment – whether it be as a result of Jamie Vardy’s menacing pace or James Maddison’s devilish set pieces, both of which were apparent in the opening exchanges. The same, though, could not be said for Palace, who once again struggled to get themselves into good goal-scoring positions when they had opportunities in the final third. In a very simple kind of way, the Foxes showed the value of creating chances in areas a team is more likely to score from; Palace, on the other hand, at Selhurst Park in particular, continue to struggle to work their way into positions where they can truly hurt the opposition, which is reflected in the fact that they have scored just four times in six home games this season.
2. Palace fans should know better than most not to annoy the opposition’s most likely goal source. We saw it first hand against Bournemouth last year and against West Ham the season before that, when both sets of visiting supporters thought it would be a bright idea to goad Wilfried Zaha into action. Players like Zaha and Jamie Vardy feed off the noise, so when the Holmesdale started chanting about the antics of the latter’s wife, it was entirely predictable what was going to happen next. Am I the only one who thought the celebration was funny?
3. Speaking of Zaha, Palace need to find a way to start getting the best out of him again. The Eagles’ talisman has just one assist to his name this season, which is far from ideal for a team that has become so reliant upon his creative output. However, it isn’t entirely his fault. He once again looked short of his best against Leicester as the away side cut off the passing lanes to the Ivorian and Palace failed to find alternative routes for him to receive the ball facing forward and with green grass in front of him. Zaha grew visibly frustrated and moved across the front three to try and get on the ball more, only to be crowded out whenever he got a sniff of possession. Whether Zaha has been a victim of Jordan Ayew’s presence in the team – the Ghanaian makes runs into the channels which occupies some of Zaha’s space – remains to be seen, but Roy Hodgson needs to find a way to bring more out of his best player, and that needs to start with getting him the ball more frequently.
4. Palace might soon face a midfield conundrum. James McArthur was substituted in the second half with what looked like a recurrence of his back injury, while Cheikhou Kouyate also appeared to go off with a knock. James McCarthy has shown himself to be an able deputy when one of Hodgson’s preferred three is unavailable, but being forced into playing one of Max Meyer or Victor Camarasa might add some of the creativity Palace are crying out for in midfield. Too much is falling on Zaha and Ayew to provide that spark at present, and whether it is the introduction of one of the aforementioned two or Andros Townsend returning to form, something has to change.
5. This was perhaps the weekend that brought the Eagles back down to earth. Palace’s stay in the top six was never likely to last long, and Sunday served as a reminder of the level that they need to reach consistently in order to make that next step as a club. Leicester are obviously a unique case given their title win a few years ago, but they are reaping the rewards of smartly reinvesting that money in a young group of players and an experienced manager capable of transforming the way they play. The hope is that Palace will one day be able to replicate that, and while theirs is likely to be a different route to Leicester’s, the recent announcement regarding the plans to invest in the academy suggests that the club is starting to plan with at least one eye on the future.