Errors Apart, Palace Were Never Equipped To Get Back Into Game

It was a disappointing loss at Stamford Bridge but what did we learn from the defeat? Here are my observations on what was a pretty toothless display following a good start to the season.

1. Palace fans don’t expect their team to beat Chelsea, but they do expect their team to at least try to attack. The home side came into Saturday’s game under a bit of pressure after an underwhelming start to the season, but Palace simply let their hosts dictate the pace of the match without ever giving them anything to worry about. Chelsea’s weakness has been a leaky defence, so it was bizarre to see Palace sit so deep without ever really looking to hit them on the break like they did so effectively against Manchester United at Old Trafford. It worked for the first half, but the problem with such a rigid, all out defensive approach is that eventually someone makes a mistake, the ball bounces in the wrong place and all of a sudden you’re a goal down. When that happened on Saturday, Palace simply weren’t set up to get back into the game.

2. Equally as baffling as Palace’s approach on Saturday was Roy Hodgson’s use of his substitutions. It is something that has left many fans scratching their heads ever since the former England manager arrived at the club, and it was difficult to understand his thought processes against Chelsea. When Palace went 2-0 down, Hodgson’s response was to send on Luka Milivojevic, a defensive midfielder. Five minutes later he replaced James McArthur with Jairo Riedewald, another defensive midfielder. At the end of the game Christian Benteke and Max Meyer remained rooted to the bench despite Palace’s obvious need to change things going forward. It either says something about Hodgson’s opinion of those two players, or about his ambition in terms of what he wanted to get out of the game.

3. Jordan Ayew’s form at the start of this season – and more generally since football returned after lockdown – has made clear why Palace needed to bring in a new striker, and might yet still need another attacking reinforcement. The Ghanaian was excellent for much of last season, but has so far struggled to hit those heights in the opening games of this campaign. In doing so he also isn’t offering much help to Wilfried Zaha, whose threat was easily nullified by Chelsea on Saturday with Palace’s talisman very much starved of service. One of Ayew’s greatest attributes is his workrate, but that is only likely to secure his place in the side for so long. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Michy Batshuayi get his chance in the not too distant future.

4. Palace’s makeshift defence was impressive in the first two games of the season, but Saturday’s 4-0 defeat is a reminder that Roy Hodgson will have some difficult decisions to make with some players returning to full fitness. I said last week that Cheikhou Kouyate has made one of the centre back spots his own, but there is also an argument that the Eagles are missing his energy in midfield. With Gary Cahill back in full training, the likelihood is that he will take one of those places, but the question is whether Hodgson will be willing to partner him with Mamadou Sakho given that the two have leaked goals as a pair in the past. Patrick van Aanholt is also nearing a return to full fitness, but Tyrick Mitchell is becoming an increasingly solid option at left back despite giving away a soft penalty at the weekend. Mitchell arguably offers greater defensive stability than the Dutchman, but Van Aanholt is without doubt one of Palace’s best attacking outlets when he’s fit. It will be interesting to see what route Hodgson goes down, but it will be a welcome problem to have.

5. After Saturday’s defeat Palace are now averaging 31 per cent possession through their four games this season. That is perhaps to be expected having played matches against Chelsea, Manchester United, Everton and another strong side in Southampton, but it remains to be seen if those tactics will breed success over an entire season – or if it is one that Palace fans will be happy watching on a regular basis. We’re used to seeing Palace play without the ball, but the supporters will want to see a little bit more ambition with the run of fixtures the Eagles have coming up, starting with the derby game against Brighton.

1 comment
  1. inviting good attacking teams to come on to you for the whole game means you probably play a much larger proportion of the match in your own penalty area.This means that mistakes are significantly more likely, and when they come they are almost certain to be critical. A recipe for disaster.

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