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Crystal Palace

Roy Hodgson faces a difficult task to save Crystal Palace but does offer a glimmer of hope

Martyn Cooke

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Roy Hodgson

On Saturday afternoon Roy Hodgson stood in the dugout at Selhurst Park with his arms crossed and a forlorn expression etched on his face. The 70-year-old has always been regarded as one of the deep-thinkers of football management and he was certainly left with plenty to ponder over by the time that the final whistle had been sounded to confirm a fifth straight defeat for Crystal Palace.

Hodgson was probably wondering why his side had conspired to concede the only goal of the game within six minutes or, perhaps, how Christian Benteke had fired his shot directly at the goalkeeper from six yards out when it looked easier to score on the half hour mark. One of the most experienced managers remaining in football may well have wondered why he was in South London at all rather than enjoying a well-deserved retirement on a beach in Barbados.

It is over two years since he last occupied a dugout, on a fateful evening that ended in his England side being knocked out of the European Championships by Iceland, and few had expected him to make a return to top flight football. Hodgson has reached the ripe old age of 70 and after 41 years of management it is testament to his passion for the game that he has launched himself into the deep end by taking charge of a Crystal Palace side that appears to be destined for relegation. Saving The Eagles from the drop will be one of the biggest challenges in his career.

The statistics, results and forthcoming fixtures do not make for positive reading. Palace have lost all five of their opening Premier League fixtures and have yet to even score a goal – something that has never occurred before in the top flight of English football. Up next are Manchester United and Manchester City, both away fixtures, before they host reigning Champions Chelsea at Selhurst Park in early October. It is not inconceivable that The Eagles will find themselves without a point or a goal to their name after eight games of the season.

Problems, solutions and a slim glimmer of hope

The problems that Roy Hodgson faces at Crystal Palace will come as little surprise to those that have observed the club over the last five years.

Since securing promotion to the Premier League in 2013 under Ian Holloway the team have been consistently dipping in and around the relegation zone. There is a definitive lack of identity and there is little doubt that the squad needs to be galvanised and remoulded into an effective cohort. The current crop of players appear to have adopted an inability to defend and an impotency in front of goal whilst key figures in the team seem incapable of producing substantial performances on any sort of consistent basis.

Frank de Boer attempted to change the culture and philosophy at the club but the contrast in the total-football that he wanted to implement and the route-one style of play utilised by his predecessor, Sam Allardyce, was too great for a limited group of players to be able to adapt to. The end result was that the Dutchman lost his job after just four games in charge and Palace have rooted themselves to the foot of the Premier League table.

However, Hodgson will provide a slim glimmer of hope for Crystal Palace supporters. The 70-year-old has previous experience of saving a club from relegation having successfully overseeing Fulham’s last-day great escape in 2008. He is renowned for developing teams that get the basics right, that are hard to beat but effective in the final third, with training consisting of constant work on the shape and structure. Although his style of management and play may not have suited the so-called ‘big’ jobs in which he has undoubted failed, such as with England and Liverpool, it could well be just what the doctor ordered for a sinking Palace side.

But not all of the pressure or blame should be placed solely on the shoulders of Hodgson as the campaign progresses. The current Crystal Palace squad consists of experienced and talented individuals such as Andros Townsend, Scott Dann, Christian Benteke and Yahan Cabaye – where has their contribution been over the opening month of the season? It is time for the players to stand up and be counted, whilst it is Hodgson’s job to facilitate a system that maximises their ability.

It will certainly not be as easy at is sounds. Maybe Roy Hodgson should have stayed on that beach in Barbados …

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.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton 2-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Amex Stadium

Jake Jackman

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Brighton

Brighton and Hove Albion reached the fourth round of the FA Cup after beating rivals Crystal Palace at the Amex Stadium on Monday night. This game was the first that used video assistant referee (VAR) technology, but it wasn’t used by Andre Marriner. It was a hard-fought contest, despite lacking the bite in the tackle that you would expect from a derby match. There was only one yellow card dished out in the game.

It was a great win for Brighton and they can take a lot of momentum from this match, as they enter a period of winnable league fixtures. Both sides made changes, but the home side were the better on the night, as they had 18 attempts to Palace’s five. The Seagulls will now face a difficult trip to Middlesbrough in the next round, but a cup run is a real possibility if they maintain this level of performance. Here are three talking points from the match:

Brighton need a new striker

They may have got the victory in the end, but the home side didn’t look very convincing in front of goal and that is a concern as they are in the midst of a relegation battle. Glenn Murray is a decent player and one that can contribute as he showed on Monday when he popped up with the winner. However, he can’t be relied on as the main source of goals.

Brighton have shown more goal threat during the last two matches and four goals from them is a good return. However, they had failed to score in five of their previous six matches. They were impressive against Palace and created chances for the frontmen, but the poor finishing remained a consistent theme.

Although Murray may be able to contribute in the Premier League, the other strikers in the squad have failed to impress. Sam Baldock looked like a player that was out of his depth, while Tomer Hemed is predictable to play against. If the Seagulls are to survive with comfort, they are going to need an injection of quality in their forward line.

Palace lacked a threat without Zaha

The FA Cup isn’t what it used to be and it was disappointing to see Roy Hodgson make as many changes as he did. The team may be in a relegation battle, but they have a talented squad and a cup run was well within their capabilities. Wilfried Zaha was one of those to miss out and it was obvious that Palace were not as threatening without him.

The winger has found consistency in the Palace team and regularly manages to influence matches, even when the rest of the side are playing poorly. His pace and trickery make him difficult to defend against, while his presence can open up space for other attackers in the team.

At the start of the season, Palace really struggled without Zaha and started the season in terrible form, losing their first seven matches without scoring a goal. It was talked about then how much the side missed their star winger and a reminder was given on Monday. Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt both struggled to cause problems for the Brighton defence. If anything was to happen to Zaha, it could be a knockout blow for Roy Hodgson.

Beram Kayal played himself into Premier League contention

Beram Kayal used to be one of the key players for Brighton, but he may have played himself back into contention with a man-of-the-match performance against Crystal Palace. There had been doubts regarding the Israeli international’s ability to perform in the top-flight, but he delivered a complete display and stood out in both halves of the pitch.

Defensively, Kayal got stuck in and dominated the midfield areas. Brighton had a physical midfield picked as they paired the 29-year-old with Dale Stephens and it was a great selection from Chris Hughton and one that helped them win the tie. The midfielder completed all six of his tackles and made a further one interception. He was combative and willing to get in the faces of the Palace midfielders, which was important in a game such as this one.

Although it was his ball-winning ability that stood out, Kayal was very intelligent on the ball and rarely took needless risks when he had possession. He completed three dribbles and was vital in transition. His ability to carry the ball started several Brighton attacks and was an effective distributor, as shown by his pass success rate of 94%. Three key passes during the match show that he can be creative as well as combative. This performance should lead to him adding to his three Premier League appearances this season.

 

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 0-0 Manchester City: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Reuters

Manchester City dropped points for the first time in the Premier League since August, as they were held to a goalless draw by Crystal Palace. The home side had a great opportunity to end the league leaders’ unbeaten run as they were awarded a penalty in the dying minutes, but Luka Milivojevic’s tame strike was saved by Ederson.

This is the second home match this season that Palace have missed a late penalty to win the game and it could come back to haunt them at the end of the season. Regardless of that, it was a great performance by the relegation-threatened team and they can take a great deal of confidence into their next run of fixtures. Here are three talking points from the match…

The injuries suffered by Manchester City

Despite dropping points against Crystal Palace, Pep Guardiola’s side remain clear at the top of the table by 14 points and it is looking increasingly likely that they will win their third Premier League title. However, one big blow to come from the draw was the injuries suffered by Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne. The former has been ruled out for two months, while the latter was stretchered off in stoppage time. The extent of the Belgian international’s injury isn’t known, but it didn’t look good.

The Premier League looks to be a foregone conclusion for the league leaders, but they will have ambitions of winning the other competitions that they are in. The Champions League is a huge target for both Guardiola and the City board, with the bookmaker’s currently pricing them as favourites to lift the famous trophy. If both of these players are going to be missing for a sustained period, it could hurt their chances in Europe’s premier competition.

A look at Manchester City’s bench shows that there isn’t a huge amount of depth below the first-team and a few injuries could hurt them. Phil Foden, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Brahim Diaz are all highly rated young players, but it would be a huge ask for them to come into the first team in a big Champions League tie. The striker position will be a worry for Guardiola, as Aguero’s body can’t be relied upon to start every match in all competitions in Jesus’ absence. The City manager may be forced into the transfer market in January.

Crystal Palace are in a false position

Roy Hodgson took over a team that hadn’t won a match or scored a single goal in the Premier League. It was a perilous situation, but he has done a great job and led them outside of the relegation zone heading into the new year. They remain in the fight at the bottom of the table, but it would take a brave man to back them to stay there for much longer.

Newcastle United were unfairly criticised for their approach against Manchester City during the week. Rafa Benitez has a limited squad at his disposal and the tactics were correct for what he had available. Palace were a lot more aggressive in their pressing and played higher up the pitch. It worked well, but comparisons between the two shouldn’t be made. The Eagles have a much better squad then they team they are currently one place below in the table.

Although they didn’t take the three points at the end, this performance showed that Manchester City find themselves in a false position. They should be much higher in the league table and they should be aiming for a top-half finish in this campaign. That seemed impossible at one point, but they are now only six points behind Watford in 10th. It is a realistic aim for them heading into 2018.

David Silva has been missed

During the last two matches, Manchester City have only scored one goal away from home and a major reason for that has been the absence of David Silva. The diminutive Spaniard is excellent at unlocking an opposition defence and without him, teams can focus on shutting down Kevin de Bruyne. The league leaders are much more effective when they have both players operating in the same team.

The injury to De Bruyne has enhanced the need for a quick Silva return. Without one of them, City are not as good. Without both of them, they may need to change their style of play completely. Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan are great players, but neither have the vision or creativity to effectively replace either midfielder.

Silva’s status is unknown and he could also be missing for the start of January. If so, this is going to be the most intense test of Manchester City in months. It is time for others to step up to the plate and show the squad aren’t reliant on a few key players. Although it seems churlish to suggest that, the next few matches will show us how sustainable this form is without key individuals.

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Arsenal

Crystal Palace 2-3 Arsenal: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

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Photo: Reuters

Arsenal moved to within a point of rivals Liverpool in fourth place in the Premier League table as Alexis Sanchez’s sublime second-half double ended Crystal Palace’s unbeaten run on Thursday night.

In Arsene Wenger’s record-equalling 810th Premier League match in charge of the Gunners, the Frenchman saw his side lead early on when Shkodran Mustafi poked in unmarked at the far post.

The visitors failed to convert their first-half dominance into further goals before the break though and it seemed like they may pay the price for it when Andros Townsend turned home Wilfried Zaha’s cross shortly after the break.

Palace well and truly had momentum – and the Selhurst Park crowd – on their side after that but two wonderful goals from Alexis Sanchez in the space of four second-half minutes knocked the wind out of the home side’s sails, with the Chilean thumping home before deftly touching into the net.

Roy Hodgson’s side refused to roll over and hit back with a period of pressure of their own, with the influential Zaha skewing a late header wide before substitute Bakary Sako blazed over when well set.

The hosts did pull one back when James Tomkins nodded home in the 89th minute but it was a case of too little too late for Palace, who tasted defeat for the first time in their past nine league matches.

Just a third away victory of the season sees Arsenal move onto 37 points, the same number as Tottenham in fifth, whilst Hodgson’s side remain a point above the relegation spots in 16th place.

Arsenal nullify in-form Palace

Heading into Thursday night’s match Arsene Wenger’s side possessed one of the worst away records in the Premier League this season with just two wins in their nine outings, and the prospect of a trip to a rejuvenated Crystal Palace – without a loss in eight – could have served up another banana skin.

And whilst the 3-2 final score-line suggests that it was a close game, there were times during the first-half especially where the Gunners were playing some fluent football close to their very best.

The dangerous duo of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were influential in attack, combining with intricate one-touch football on numerous occasions only to be lack the telling finish in front of goal.

There was one particular move before the break that scythed open the heart of the hosts team in emphatic fashion, building up five or six one-touch passes and edging towards the area before the ball broke to Granit Xhaka on the edge of the box, whose goal-bound effort was blocked.

Yet for all their signs of promise – and moments of individual brilliance from Sanchez during his quickfire double – their defensive fragility almost let the hosts back in when the game seemed gone.

At 3-1 ahead and in the 80th minute they all of a sudden became a bit frenetic, lifting Palace hopes by allowing them to have a few chances before they grabbed a deserved second, and had there been another five minutes of football the host most probably would have scored again.

If anything it was a performance that summarised everything both good and bad about Wenger’s tenure in charge on his milestone 810th match, but he’ll be quietly pleased about his side’s display.

Zaha will gain interest in January

If Crystal Palace had in fact managed to get anything out of the match then they would have been completely indebted to a wonderful performance from Wilfried Zaha.

The ex-Manchester United winger has come in for criticism throughout his career for his lack of consistency on the field but there was nobody doubting his prowess at Selhurst Park last night as, time and time again, he showed why he’s cut out for a better side than Palace.

He was their most potent threat from the start, being the man to drive forward when his midfield sat deep in their own-half, and by the second-half he had Calum Chambers on toast down the left.

It was a trademark darting run that set-up Palace’s equaliser, twisting and turning before smartly pulling the ball back for Andros Townsend to tuck home, but more than that he ran his socks off right until the full-time whistle such is his determination now. Yet this could be bad for Palace fans.

With the January transfer window creeping up around the corner there’s no doubt that Zaha’s season so far will garner attention from the top teams, and deservedly so as most would agree.

His future may lie away from Selhurst Park but for now he deserves the plaudits for leading the Eagles’ revival over the past two months, turning things around from their perilous early position.

Sanchez puts himself in the shop window with brace

You could almost hear every football fan across the country think the same thing when Alexis Sanchez’s second went in on Thursday night – isn’t it funny he’s scoring now January draws near?

The Chilean’s failed move to Manchester City on deadline day during the summer was as well-documented as it was poorly executed, and the fact that contract negotiations are still yet to take place when his current deal runs out at the end of the summer suggests an Emirates exit is nigh.

But whilst the conjecture will go on over Sanchez’s whereabouts come February let it not detract from an excellent, and well overdue, individual performance that showed he still has a lot to offer.

He has somewhat struggled so far this season to reach the heights of last year where he carried the current Arsenal team. For a point of comparison, this time 12 months ago he had already scored 12 times and assisted five times, but fast forward and he’s ‘only’ managed to find the net on seven occasions and assist three times in the 2017/18 campaign.

That said, he still has higher tallies than Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, and it’s just the ridiculously high standards that Sanchez himself set last season that mean he’s come in for some criticism this year.

Within the space of four second-half minutes he had snatched the initiative back away from the hosts after a period of pressure following their equaliser with two finishes right from the top drawer.

His first was the definition of a snap-shot, working less than a yard of space before thumping in at the near post, whilst his second was a far defter touch into the net from Jack Wilshere’s superb raking ball over the top of the defence.

Arsenal fans will be rightfully fearing the worst ahead of the January transfer market but, until anything is concrete with regards to his exit, all he can do is keep contributing in an Arsenal shirt.

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