Inability To Adapt In Absence Of Zaha Is Major Concern

A second evening defeat in a week is never a good thing and while there were plenty of talking points to pick on, here is what I settled on.

1. As Callum Wilson bore down on Palace’s goal, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d seen this one before. The Eagles had spent the last 20 minutes finally putting pressure on the Newcastle goal, but the longer they went without scoring, the more opportunities they squandered, the more inevitable it felt that the visitors would steal it. The problem remains that Palace aren’t creating enough clear-cut opportunities – and when they do get into good positions they simply don’t possess the composure to convert them into goals. Palace passed up their opportunities in this game; Callum Wilson didn’t.

2. No Wilfried Zaha, no joy. It’s not like we didn’t know that before, but zero points and no goals against two of the league’s struggling sides has laid bare just how reliant Palace are on their shining light. Any team is going to be weaker without their best player, especially one who has the ability to win games on his own, but Palace’s inability to adapt in Zaha’s absence is a major concern. Perhaps most frustrating is that this is a group of players who should be capable of picking up points against Burnley and Newcastle even if Zaha isn’t there. Roy Hodgson has been quick to call out the Ivorian when he has been underperforming, so it seems only fair that the manager is criticised when he fails to find a solution without him. That is now 15 losses in the last 17 Premier League games in which Zaha has been missing. Stats can sometimes be misleading, but that one speaks for itself.

3. A big part of the problem at present is Hodgson’s unyielding loyalty to 4-4-2. More perplexing on Friday was his insistence to persist with that formation while Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi – two players who might not have scored this season but regularly get called up by the number one ranked national team in the world – warmed the bench. To be clear, this is not a criticism of those who started ahead of them, but rather a question of why the manager was compelled to play players out of position within that system. If Hodgson did want to start Jeffrey Schlupp, as he suggested in his post-match interview, why not change the formation so he could play in his natural position? Newcastle were more than happy to defend narrow, but had Palace played with two out and out wingers and a lone striker – like Batshuayi or Benteke – then they would have been able to stretch the game more. Instead, it took until the 65th minute for Hodgson to realise that it wasn’t working. Had he set Palace up to play that way from the start – and with their best players on the pitch – then the result might have been different.

4. Scoring goals isn’t the only issue at the moment; it’s conceding them as well. Palace haven’t kept a clean sheet since the opening day of the season and all three goals conceded in last week’s games were avoidable. I said earlier in the season that Cheikhou Kouyaté had earned the right to start at centre back, but with so many defenders now fit it makes sense for him to move back into midfield. The question, though, is who plays next to Gary Cahill? Scott Dann looked like he might be enjoying something of a renaissance but teams are starting to expose his lack of pace. We all know what Mamadou Sakho is capable of when at his best but we arguably haven’t seen that for over a season due to his fitness troubles. James Tomkins, meanwhile, was arguably Palace’s most consistent performer before his injury – and had formed a solid partnership with Cahill. Should he prove his fitness, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him called upon before long.

5. Zaha or not, last week’s defeats are a cause for concern. With their talisman set to return, Palace might yet beat West Brom next weekend, but it feels as though that would only be papering over the cracks. Palace know that it is safe to have Hodgson as their manager. In a season as unpredictable as one disrupted by the pandemic, he offers stability and is unlikely to take the team down. But at what point are we allowed to question whether he is getting enough out of what is arguably Palace’s best ever Premier League squad? At what point are we allowed to demand more ambitious football from a team littered with international experience? And at what point are we allowed to ask if another manager might do better? Those are all questions that the board might be asking themselves after the last seven days.

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  1. I agree with everything you say, I hate saying this but I see us in the bottom 3 by Xmas. I so hope I’m wrong. Hodgson has got to go.

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