Following defeat to Everton we felt it was time to return to one of our more popular features where we share our five thoughts from the latest Palace game.
1. It’s difficult to start anywhere else, isn’t it? Getting a result against an in-form Everton side was already a big ask for Palace before referee Kevin Friend’s decision to award the away side a penalty for a perceived handball by Joel Ward. The Eagles had benefitted from an equally dubious decision against Manchester United a week earlier, but in both instances it was difficult to see what the defender had done wrong – and what, exactly, either Ward or Victor Lindelöf could have done differently. All that the new handball regulations have succeeded in doing is create more confusion to the extent that no one seems to be sure exactly what the rule is anymore. What constitutes an unnatural position and what doesn’t? Why was Ward’s any more of a handball than Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s in the second half? At least when players were penalised for ‘deliberately’ handling the ball referees could be held accountable for either getting the decision right or wrong, but now they are simply having to enforce a poorly thought out rule that has been handed down to them by the powers that be. Roy Hodgson went as far as saying after the game that the penalty rule is “destroying” his enjoyment of football. I think many supporters of many clubs would be inclined to agree with him.
2. Eberechi Eze looks like a Premier League player, which is perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay to Palace’s new signing on a day when the home side’s attacking opportunities were limited. But if Palace ever looked like threatening, it looked like it would be through Eze. The former QPR man showed some neat touches in tight spaces, the ball often looking like it was glued to his feet as he freely glided past defenders. He was let down by his final ball on a couple of occasions, but that will come both with time and a better understanding of his teammates. Palace’s midfield has been very one-dimensional in recent seasons, so it was refreshing to see Eze look to keep moving the ball moving forward when he found himself in possession against Everton. It remains early days, and his start has been steady rather than spectacular, but the 22-year-old is showing glimpses of why Palace were so keen to sign him – and why the fans are so excited to watch him.
3. Having said that, Palace still looked like a team that need more ideas in the final third. With Yerry Mina glued to Wilfried Zaha all game, Everton were able to nullify the Eagles’ main attacking threat and limit them to only one shot on target throughout the 90 minutes. With that in mind, it was perhaps disappointing not to see either Michy Batshuayi or Christian Benteke brought on earlier, especially with Jordan Ayew struggling so far to find his form of last season. The hope is that the signing of Batshuayi can go some way to improving Palace’s fortunes in front of goal, but Saturday’s loss laid bare that the South Londoners still don’t test the opposition goalkeeper anywhere near enough during games – which is an absolute must when playing against someone like Jordan Pickford.
4. Cheikhou Kouyate started this season at centre back out of necessity but might now stay there on merit. The Senegal captain has improved with every game this season and capped an impressive start with a goal and his strongest performance yet against Everton. While Palace might miss Kouyate’s energy in midfield, he’s good in the air and has pace to burn which is something that can’t be said of the Eagles’ other options at centre back. Kouyate’s move to the back four is also beneficial because it might give Palace the confidence to accept an offer for one of their many defenders should a bid come in, which would then free up funds to spend on improving other areas of the squad.
5. Defeat to Everton shouldn’t overshadow what has been a decent start to the season for Palace. Few would have expected the Eagles to take six points from their opening three fixtures, each of which have been against strong sides. Hodgson’s tactical tweaks have seen Palace look slightly more effective on the counter attack, something that will hopefully continue to improve as the season progresses. Strengthening the squad also seems to have added competition that has sparked the likes of Andros Townsend back into life, when in previous seasons he and several others could have been confident that they would likely be starting every week irrespective of form. Another difficult game beckons with this weekend’s trip to Chelsea, but it is the run of fixtures after that – against Brighton, Fulham, Wolves, Leeds, Burnley, Newcastle and West Brom – that should give a better indication of what Palace might be able to achieve this season.