Well, it’s been a while hasn’t it. Apologies from me, this was supposed to be something for after the FIRST international break. But you know what it’s like, life gets in the way and all that, so just means there’s more info right?
Anyway, here’s just a quick list of some of the things we’ve learnt about Palace after the first 9 gameweeks.
- Post-AWB Defence is Investable
There were many concerned with the state of the defence heading into the opening weekend, myself included. Exacerbated by the failure to recruit a replacement for last season’s defensive starlet Aaron Wan-Bissaka, on top of the injuries to the first-choice centre-back partnership of Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins. However, with only conceding 10 goals in the opening 9 games, 4 of which came in the defeat to Spurs, the Eagles defence has been fairly miserly in its offerings to the opposition. Only Liverpool (7), Sheffield United (7), Leicester (8), Man City (9), and Man United (9) have conceded less than Palace, and the 3 clean sheets are only bettered by the Citizens’ tally of 4.
A major part of this is the way in which Gary Cahill has settled into the squad, putting his body on the line and showing a coolness that only experience at the top level can provide. It has been impressive to see, especially when you think he’s barely played for Chelsea over the last couple of years. There where even calls for him to be captain for the game when Milivojević was suspended. He has now cemented that place as part of the centre-back partnership, and has played with all of the other options in that position.
One who has upped their game is Martin Kelly, much to the surprise of myself. Martin was one of the main options at 4.0m heading into the season, looking like an able stand-in for Sakho and Tomkins during their time in recovery. Whenever I was asked, even to this very day, I always said that he would play in the first few weeks alongside Cahill, then would lose his place to whomever of Sakho and Tomkins came back first. This did look the case when an injury sustained in the home win over Aston Villa in gameweek 4 meant Sakho was drafted back in (maybe a little too soon) and Kelly failed to feature in the following 2 gameweeks. He returned to the side for the wins over Norwich and West Ham, but a failure to pass a late fitness test prevented him from featuring against the defending champions. Martin has played himself into contention for a starting spot even when the likes of Sakho and Tomkins are fit, helping the team to 4 wins out of the 6 games he’s played in (Palace have only got 1 point in the 3 games where he didn’t), and that is a credit to him.
- Goals are Still an Issue
The concerns were there as the window closed with Jordan Ayew being the only recruit into a forward line that had been starved of goals for quite a while to say the least. As you may be aware, I was fairly vocal about the situation at the time. The first 2 games went as feared with Palace failing to convert any of the chances we created, resulting in a blank goal tally heading into a trip to Old Trafford in gameweek 3. That’s where Ayew decided to make me look like a fool, grabbing his first of the season in a famous away win, he even compounded it by scoring against his old side Villa the following week. Had Palace finally found a goal scorer to rely on? Well with only 1 extra goal in the last 5 games would suggest not, but that’s actually pretty good for a Palace striker.
Only the Newcastle (5) and Watford (5) have scored less goals so far this season than Palace’s tally of 8. It’s not exactly an impressive amount when you see that Villa currently have botched up 15 in the 9 games. Now, I understand Palace have had a good start to the season in terms of results, at time of writing we’re sitting 6th in the league, but it just shows how reliant we are on having a solid defence. We can’t rely on the forwards to score enough goals on their own to bail us out if the defence has an off day, just have to look at the Spurs game for that.
Going forward, we will need the likes of Zaha and Milivojevic to contribute more to the scoresheet, as we can’t possibly carry on with van Aanholt being the second highest goal scorer.
- “Typical Palace” = Inconsistency
I’ve seen this quite a few times on Twitter after Palace matches, for both good and bad reasons. The epitome of this was encapsulated by the month of August. On face value, only 1 loss out of 4 league games is far from a bad start, but it was the manner of the performances.
Attacking in first game against Everton but with nothing to show, and then one of the worst performances I can remember against Sheffield United where I don’t think the lads even turned up. Then somehow we managed to win at Old Trafford for the first time since the 80’s and lose to Colchester United in the Caramel Cup in the same week. The mind boggles.
Palace were one of those sides where you know exactly what you was going to get when you played them. Counter-attacking away from home, and slightly dodgy trying to play a possession game at home, but doesn’t seem to be the case now. Before the most recent defeat to Man City in GW9, Palace were 6 games unbeaten at home, something us fans thought we could only dream of when we had relegation form at Selhurst last season. Whereas we’ve had some horror shows in trips to Bramall Lane and Tottenham.
- VAR doesn’t equal more penalties…for Palace Anyway
Yeah, that theory hasn’t really panned out yet has it, but we did get one against Norwich so that’s a start. Although, VAR seems to be more focused on ruling out goals than awarding penalties, but that’s a whole different debate.
- What the Immediate Future Holds
The computer they use to schedule the fixtures obviously felt Palace needed to get in the Halloween spirit by giving us a horrifically scary run of games over October and November. We started of with a visit from defending champions Man City before having to face trips across the river to Arsenal (GW10) and Chelsea (GW12), whilst welcoming 2 of the most in form sides in the league Leicester (GW11) and Liverpool (GW13) to South London. Even an away journey to Turf Lane in the last day of November is hardly desirable.
However, I don’t think it should be a period in which Palace should be written off, especially in terms of FPL. Only conceding 2 against City (albeit could have been a lot worse) is nothing to be ashamed of, and there are definitely opportunities to get points out of these games.
Arsenal have proven to have a fairly shaky defence to say the least, especially susceptible to quick counter attacks. This is something Palace are amongst some of the best in the league at doing on their day. It will rely on the likes of Zaha and Ayew causing havoc between the Gunners centre-backs and being clinical whenever an opportunity arises, something that is usually our undoing.
In the past, we have had good results against Leicester and Liverpool, but the importance of the defence being solid and disciplined can not be stressed enough. It will be a period where we’re not going to get a lot of goals (could say that any time really), but one where the odd goal here and there, coupled with a traditionally resolute backline, could result in some truly precious points. With 15 up for grabs before the start of December, if we could get could get more than 6 points, and put in good performances in every game, then I think we can head into a much better Christmas period with a sense of optimism and look to push for that top half position, even have a cheeky run at the European places.