Palace got back to winning ways up at Turf Moor at the weekend, but what did we learn from the victory? Here are our thoughts.
1. Sean Dyche sees Roy Hodgson in his nightmares. This was the second year running that Palace controlled the game up at Turf Moor, owing much to how well organised they were out of possession. The away side were happy to sit off and invite the long ball, which meant they were able to take advantage of the extra space when their hosts committed men forward. In a way it was a carbon copy of last season’s win, when Palace soaked up Burnley’s pressure and had a clinical edge on the counter attack. That’s now four wins on the bounce against the Clarets, who must be sick of the sight of us.
2. This was Wilfried Zaha back to his menacing best. Palace’s talisman has been the victim of the Eagles’ recent run of fixtures, his creativity sacrificed in a system where defending has been the priority. Against Burnley, however, he reminded everyone just how devastating he can be when given the ball early and often – and afforded room to run. His goal was the perfect illustration of everything we have come to expect from the Ivorian, leaving Phil Bardsley for dead before instinctively lashing a shot towards goal and catching Nick Pope off guard. It might be no coincidence that Zaha is finding form with the January transfer window looming, but with a winnable run of games coming up Palace will have no qualms with him trying to show just how good he is.
3. James McArthur is a phenomenon. Admittedly, that might be a push, but the Scotsman has been Palace’s best midfielder this season and was a big reason the Eagles won the game on Saturday. This was a fixture made for McArthur, who relishes his role as a general nuisance and flourishes in doing the basic things that often go unnoticed. Against Burnley he seemed to be everywhere, picking up loose balls, hurrying the opposition and recycling the ball out wide to Zaha whenever he could. Both he and Cheikhou Kouyate also created more time and space for Luka Milivojevic, who equally had one of his better games of the season and answered back to those who have questioned his passing ability. A handful of Palace fans had deemed that McArthur was finished at this level some time ago, but his recent performances suggest that he remains as crucial as ever.
4. Palace had defensive concerns going into this game with both Gary Cahill and Joel Ward out with injury, leaving an out of practice Scott Dann to come in at centre back and Martin Kelly deputise in a less comfortable role at right back. Makeshift it may have been, but Palace’s back four were superb. In a way, Ward’s injury played into Palace’s hands as Kelly’s height helped the away side to cope better with Burnley’s aerial threat; Dann also justified his inclusion ahead of Mamadou Sakho by constantly rising above Chris Wood during his hour on the pitch. The real hero of the day, though, was James Tomkins, who put in a characteristically brave display to give further indication that he is rediscovering his pre-injury form. All that being said, Palace still had to rely on an awful finish from Wood and another jaw-dropping save from Vicente Guaita, whose transformative impact on this side defensively cannot be overstated.
5. Without a win in five, this was an extremely resolute performance from Palace. There was underlying pressure on the Eagles to get something at Turf Moor given that it was perceived to be their most winnable game since picking up three points at West Ham in early October. It has been difficult to read exactly how far the Eagles can go this season, but Saturday’s win suggested that there can be aspirations to reach the top ten. Palace might have got little return from their games against the top six, but in their 14 fixtures so far have shown that they are more than capable of beating the other teams in the division. Two points off fifth and with a kinder sequence of fixtures coming up in a busy December, there is no reason that Palace shouldn’t look to climb into the top half before strengthening in the January transfer window.