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Crystal Palace

Christian Benteke returns to haunt Liverpool whose charge for Europe falters

Martyn Cooke

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Christian Benteke came back to haunt Liverpool as his two goals helped to edge Crystal Palace closer to safety whilst also potentially scuppering Jurgen Klopp’s push for Champions League qualification.

The Belgium forward cancelled out Philippe Countiho’s first half free kick with an emphatic close-range finish from Yohan Cabaye’s driven cross before netting the winner with a powerful header from Andros Townsend’s miss-hit corner.

There was no manic celebration from Benteke against his former club and the Anfield crowd grudgingly but sportingly gave the 26-year-old a round of applause when he was substituted in the closing moments.

It was a well-deserved moment of appreciation for a player that had failed to shine during his short spell with Liverpool but had produced a match-winning display upon his return.

An unhappy spell at Anfield

One of Brendan Rodgers’ last meaningful acts as manager of Liverpool was to purchase Christian Benteke from Aston Villa for a fee of £32,500,000 in the summer of 2015.

The Belgian had flourished in the Premier League with the struggling Midlands side and had proven to be a regular goal scorer whose power, pace and strength made him perfect for leading the line in the physically demanding world of English football.

However, Benteke’s time at Anfield was far from positive and, when Jurgen Klopp replaced Rodgers midway through the 2015/16 season, the writing was very much on the wall for the striker.

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Klopp decided that the 26-year-old did not fit his vision of high intensity football and the forward was very rarely selected to start league fixtures.

The general perception was that Benteke simply did not possess the attributes required to become a key component of the new look Liverpool that the former Borussia Dortmund manager was looking to build and implement at Anfield. The Belgian never lost his ability, it was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unsurprisingly, Liverpool chose to cash in on their out of place striker and Benteke was sold to Crystal Palace for £27,000,000 in the summer.

Making a point

Christian Benteke made his point to Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool supporters in general with his match winning display on Sunday.

Strong, powerful and a constant threat, the Liverpool back four never looked comfortably dealing with the Belgian’s attacking prowess.

Dejan Lovren appeared completely unable to deal with his former team mate and had no answers to the attacking questions that Benteke was posing.

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The striker demonstrated tremendous desire to latch onto Yahan Cabaye’s drilled cross before any defender could react to score the equaliser whilst Liverpool’s inability to defend corners was once again exposed when the 26-year-old grabbed the winning goal mid-way through the second period.

The result practically guarantees that Crystal Palace will secure their Premier League status for another season, a feat that will go some way to rebuilding Sam Allardyce’s battered reputation following his controversial stint as manager of England.

Leading The Eagles’ to survival is an impressive achievement and Benteke has been a vital part of the team’s revival. For Liverpool, a loss on home soil puts a severe dent in their hopes for Champions League qualification.

That is now 14 goals in the Premier League for Benteke this campaign, a total that no Liverpool player has been able to match. Klopp may well be wondering if he could have done more to fit the imposing Belgian forward into his new look side.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Gordon Judge (Gordon Judge)

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Crystal Palace

Can Crystal Palace cope without the injured Wilfried Zaha?

With Wilfried Zaha out of action for the foreseeable future, Crystal Palace run the serious risk of relegation from the Premier League, writes Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Reuters

Crystal Palace have been dealt a major blow in their battle against relegation as Wilfried Zaha has been ruled out for roughly a month with a knee injury.

The fleet-footed winger suffered the knock during the team’s home draw against Newcastle United and although he remained on the pitch, the damage was done.

In last week’s press conference, Roy Hodgson spoke about his star player and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports:

“It’s amazing Wilf was able to play so much of the game with the injury,”

“He’s a very quick healer and we’ll be working to get him back as soon as possible. He won’t play versus Everton though.

“If he recovered in a week or two it would be a fantastic effort, but it’s more realistic we’d have to wait a month for him. It’s not certain. He’ll be pushing the medical staff to come back as soon as possible.”

The player himself will want to return at the earliest opportunity as he was in great form and reaching the level that many expected him to reach when he was a teenager.

He is now the most important player for Crystal Palace, but his injury must be managed carefully as the side can’t afford to lose him for a longer period of time if he is rushed back.

In hindsight, it does look like a poor decision to keep him on the pitch against Newcastle, as he likely aggravated the problem during the match.

Despite their excellent form since the appointment of Hodgson, Palace remain deeply ingrained in the relegation battle due to their appalling start to the season.

At the time of writing, they are currently in 14th position and three points above the drop zone.

That doesn’t sound like a big gap, but as there are three teams between them and 18th position, they are in a good position to remain in the Premier League.

However, if their performances get worse in the absence of Zaha, they will be in real danger of falling down the table.

How important is Zaha?

It has become a sweeping generalisation to talk of Zaha as the most important player in this Palace team.

The winger is exciting to watch and is often the player that the team look towards for inspiration in the final third.

When he is playing well, he is difficult to stop and his dynamism often creates lots of chances for the side.

Crystal Palace have only lost five of the 20 matches that Zaha has featured in this season and three of those defeats came against top-six teams.

The Ivory Coast international suffered an injury during the opening match of the season and missed two months of action.

During this time, Palace failed to earn a single point or score a single goal in the Premier League.

For any person doubting the importance of the winger, that statistic is eye-opening.

His return came against current champions Chelsea and it was evident that him being named in the team lifted the rest of the players.

They were a rejuvenated side and delivered an excellent performance to secure their first points of the campaign.

Zaha was at the heart of everything that was good about the South London outfit and he scored the winner on the day.

In addition to his goal, the 25-year-old completed six dribbles and made two key passes.

Ordinarily players need time to catch up to speed, but he immediately found his stride and it was important that he did, as Palace were being cut adrift at the bottom of the division.

Since then, Palace have showed the form of a top-eight team and lost on only six occasions in all competitions.

The Eagles have tasted defeat 14 times this season and nine of those have now come when Zaha has been absent.

There is no doubting how vital he is to the team and that begs an interesting question: how will they cope without him over the coming month?

How can they cope without Zaha?

Although Palace have one of the stronger squads outside of the top-six, they have several other players injured and it is tough to see a natural replacement for Zaha.

Bakary Sako, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jason Puncheon are all creative players, but all of them are injured.

In addition to them, Hodgson also has to deal with the absences of Scott Dann, Martin Kelly, Julian Speroni and Jeffrey Schlupp.

That leaves them bare across the pitch.

Andros Townsend is going to be the player that the team need to step up and take on more responsibility, but he is very inconsistent.

The England international has scored only one goal this Premier League season.

That said, he has five assists and it could be his creativity that helps cover for the loss of Zaha.

The only other wide option is Lee Chung-yong, but he has played only three times in the league this season. It would be a tough ask for him to replace Zaha.

It could be that a change of system is required to facilitate for the loss of Zaha and a formation with two strikers could be the answer.

Alexander Sørloth signed on deadline day and is seen as a powerful striker capable of transitioning quickly to English football due to his physicality.

A potential partnership with Christian Benteke could be frightening for opposition defences.

The next month will shape Crystal Palace’s season. They need to prove to themselves that they can win matches without Zaha, but recent evidence suggests they will struggle.

Their next four matches see them face Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea.

There is a real chance they lose ground in the battle to stay up and without their best player, it looks even bleaker for them.

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle United: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Crystal Palace and Newcastle United played out a draw at Selhurst Park, but that didn’t do much to ease the relegation fears of both clubs. The home side have now lost only two of their last 15 Premier League matches, which underlines their improvement under Roy Hodgson. Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez will be encouraged by his side’s recent form, as they have lost just two of their last eight matches in the league, both of which came against Manchester City. Although neither set of supporters will be delighted by the result, the match showed that both sides are difficult to beat and that is a positive. Here are three talking points from the match:

Wilfried Zaha has found the consistency to match his talent

The winger has been fantastic to watch this season and there are few better in the Premier League at running with the ball. At times, it looks impossible to dispossess him as he weaves past six or seven challenges to create a chance for his team. Zaha completed three dribbles and made three key passes, which made him one of the most effective players in the final third on Sunday. He came close to scoring at one point, but his effort curled over the bar.

It was evident that Zaha was the player that the Newcastle defence feared and he consistently caused them problems down Palace’s right-hand side. Hodgson has got the best out of him in the final third, but his defensive work rate has been equally as impressive. He completed one tackle and one interception during the match. At the beginning of the second half, he burst a lung getting back to prevent a promising opening for Newcastle by intercepting a ball into Ayoze Perez. Under past managers, the 25-year-old wouldn’t have done that. The appointment of Hodgson may be looked back on as an important moment in the development of the Ivory Coast international.

Kenedy looks to be a great signing for Newcastle

This Newcastle United team has a lot of work rate and the players fight for the shirt, but they have looked short on quality up to this point. Rafa Benitez was vocal during the summer as he continually stated he needed more players, but he never once criticised those already at the club. It was important in January that they added some quality and Kenedy looks to be a great addition. He played his part in the first goal with another dangerous corner delivery.

Every time that he gets the ball, he looks dangerous and during his time on the pitch, he completed two dribbles and finished the game with an 86% pass success rate. That shows his quality and he is a player that Newcastle can look to for inspiration. His end product needs work, as he missed a good chance in the first half and dallied on the ball just after the break when he should have played in Ayoze Perez for a one-on-one chance. If he can continue to impress and improve in the final third, he could play a vital part in keeping the club in the top-flight.

The relegation fight will go down to the wire

It is becoming a common theme that matches such as these are becoming must not lose, rather than must win. Both managers appeared relatively pleased with a point after the match, but either side could have won it. Newcastle were excellent for the first half, but they chose to move to a more defensive style after the break. If they continued to commit bodies forward and pressed Palace high up the pitch when the score was 1-0, they would have had a great chance to increase their lead.

However, Palace’s recent run of form shows they are difficult to beat and that showed on Sunday. That said, they could have been more positive once they had the equaliser. They had new signing Alexander Sørloth on the bench, but they didn’t bring him on. He would have added another physical presence in the final third and could have caused chaos next to Christian Benteke. There are only seven points separating the bottom ten clubs and it is shaping up to be the most exciting relegation battles in recent seasons. Both of these teams will be hoping to climb clear over the coming weeks, but this point did little to stabilise their position.

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Arsenal

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Emirates

Rob Meech

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Arsenal
Photo: Reuters

A barnstorming first-half performance against Crystal Palace saw Arsenal record their first victory of 2018. Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all scored in the opening 22 minutes to stun Crystal Palace. Arsenal could not add to their tally as the visitors stemmed the bleeding and replied with a late consolation through Luka Milivojevic.

This was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, whose ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League have taken a blow in recent weeks. Palace meanwhile, have been in impressive form since Roy Hodgson took charge, but this defeat has checked their progress. Here are three talking points from the Emirates…

Mesut Ozil steps up in Alexis Sanchez’s absence

With Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United rumoured to be nearing completion, this was a chance for Arsenal supporters to see how the team might shape up without him. Sanchez was excluded from the side that lost to Bournemouth last weekend, but his absence was hardly felt here.

That might have had something to do with the return of Mesut Ozil from injury. The Germany international was influential throughout, particularly in partnership with the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere. Ozil is sometimes accused of drifting in and out of games against top-quality opposition, but when he is given licence to express himself without defensive responsibility, there are few better players to watch in the Premier League.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, Ozil showed Gunners fans that there can be life after Sanchez. It should not be forgotten that Ozil is another Arsenal player in the final six months of his contract. Tying him down to a new deal must be a priority for the club.

A reality check for lacklustre Palace

After losing their first seven Premier League matches – without scoring a goal in the process – relegation seemed nailed on for Palace. The appointment of Hodgson was largely derided, but the former England boss has had a remarkable impact in a relatively short space of time at Selhurst Park.

Survival is by no means guaranteed, but such has been their upturn in form that it is hard to imagine the Eagles being sucked back into trouble. It says a lot about their progress that many thought an upset might have been on the cards. Palace, however, were left shell-shocked after Arsenal’s four-goal burst.

When the Gunners click, they can be irresistible. Palace fans need not be too alarmed, even if their defending was lax. In fact, they should be heartened that their players did not capitulate in the second period, with the game effectively over. Although Milivojevic’s goal was too, little too late, it was just reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Lacazette issues a timely reminder 

With a 3-0 advantage after just 13 minutes, Arsenal were in cruise control. But it was Lacazette’s goal, rounding off a superb team move to make it 4-0, that would have provided the biggest cheer. After hitting the ground running following his big-money transfer from Lyon last summer, the 26-year-old had endured a goal drought that stretched all the way back to December 2.

With questions being asked about his form, amid speculation that Arsenal are set to launch a raid for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a timely reminder that Lacazette has plenty to offer. His overall record of nine Premier League goals from 24 appearances is more than respectable for a newcomer to the English game.

Lacazette will hope that his goal against Palace can be the catalyst for another scoring run. Without Sanchez, the burden rests more heavily on the France international and if a move for Aubameyang does not materialise, he will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

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