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.
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.
Premier League Team of the Week I: Featuring Crystal Palace and Liverpool favourites
Who made The Boot Room’s Team of the Week for Game Week 1?
Crystal Palace and Liverpool enjoyed away wins on the opening weekend of the Premier League season while Everton gave newly promoted Wolves a quick reminder of the tough task they face on their return to the top flight.
Following the weekend’s action, The Boot Room picks its six-a-side Team of the Week.
Crystal Palace duo Wayne Hennessey and Aaron Wan-Bissaka make up the defensive line, with both impressing in the Eagles’ 2-0 victory over newly-promoted Fulham.
The former made six saves in-between the sticks to ensure a well-deserved clean sheet, while the latter successfully nullified the attacking threat of the talented Ryan Sessegnon, ensuring last season’s Sky Bet Championship Player of the Year barely had a sniff all game. Meanwhile, he also turned creator for his side’s second goal of the afternoon.
Liverpool’s James Milner‘s imperious display ensures him a spot in midfield for the week. As the Reds strolled to a 4-0 victory over West Ham United at Anfield, the 32-year-old dominated proceedings, bettering his peers in seven key areas, including recording more touches of the ball than any other player on the pitch.
Keeping him company in midfield is Wolves talent Ruben Neves. Like Milner, the 21-year-old Portugal star was central to his club’s efforts throughout the opening week. He demonstrated his immense talent and a level of maturity beyond his years as he lead his side to a 2-2 draw, chipping in with a goal and an assist.
In attack, Everton’s Richarlison seems like a man who is clearly going to thrive on the pressure of performing at Goodison Park, at least if his debut for the Toffees is anything to go by. His well-taken brace against Wolves ensured a ten-man Toffees side emerged with a least a point in their first competitive outing under Marco Silva.
Finally, Liverpool star Sadio Mane proved he is not willing to fall quietly into Mohamed Salah’s shadow at Anfield with a terrific week one performance. The Senegalese forward was in red hot form as he netted a superb brace to pick up where he left off last season following his goal in the Champions League Final defeat to Real Madrid.
Team of the Week: Crystal Palace’s Wayne Hennessey flawless performance denies Fulham
The Welshman was on hand to deny Fulham on six occasions.
When Crystal Palace went out and acquired Vicente Guaita from Getafe in the summer, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey surely must have been apprehensive about his status as the club’s number one.
But, despite the Spaniard’s arrival, Hennessey kept his place in the squad and produced a flawless performance against Fulham en route to a 2-0 victory this weekend.
The Welshman did also sign a new three-year contract over the summer, and rewarded Roy Hodgson’s faith in him by recording six saves against the Cottagers.
“[Hennessey] ended the last season exceptionally well and played very well around that time, so even though both goalkeepers have done well in the pre-season matches, I had no reason to take the shirt from Wayne.”
The newly-promoted side started the match brightly and had the Eagles on the back foot at Craven Cottage, yet the 31-year-old stood strong between the sticks.
In the first five minutes, Hennessey dove brilliantly to his left to claw away a rasping drive from Cyrus Christie. He followed that up by denying Aleksandar Mitrovic’s smashed strikes on a number of occasions, frustrating the Serbian striker.
The goalkeeper’s saves were ever the more impressive considering the lack of clear-cut rebounds they produced. With winger Ryan Sessegnon eager to pounce on any loose ball in the box, Hennessey made sure to parry shots well away from the danger area and maintain his clean sheet.
Vital to Crystal Palace’s defensive solidity in their opening Premier League win in SW6, Wayne Hennessey repaid his manager’s faith and earned himself a place in the team of the week.
Team of the Week: Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka shines in season opener
The 20-year-old was a stand-out performer from Palace’s opening day victory.
For many Premier League supporters without an in-depth knowledge of Crystal Palace, Aaron Wan-Bissaka was probably best known for being a cheap defensive option in fantasy football – until this weekend.
After his sterling display in Palace’s 2-0 victory over newly-promoted Fulham, the 20-year-old defender is rightly drawing mass accolades and receiving the recognition he deserves as one of England’s brightest young defenders.
“I thought he was excellent, both defensively and offensively.”
Matched up against another fellow English starlet, 18-year-old left winger Ryan Sessegnon, Wan-Bissaka excelled and neutralised the attacker all match long– a feat which was revealed in the right back’s match statistics.
According to Opta, Wan-Bissaka made four tackles, six clearances, four interceptions, and one block at Craven Cottage. These contributions were vital as Palace kept an opening-day clean sheet, and Wan-Bissaka’s diligent tracking of Sessegnon denied Fulham the chance at goal.
Perhaps Sessegnon’s most dangerous trait is his ability to drift into goalscoring positions and slot home rebounds or low crosses, and there were plenty of opportunities on Saturday as goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey made a number of saves from the shots of Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Normally, Fulham supporters would expect the 18-year-old to be at hand to slot home the resulting scraps, yet at every ocassion it was instead Wan-Bissaka who intelligently cleared the danger.
In addition, the 20-year-old defender provided some integral attacking contributions, recording 69 touches (the most of any Palace player) and supplying the composed assist for Wilfried Zaha’s second half goal.
Wan-Bissaka shrugged off a challenge from Mitrovic, strode past a flat-footed Sessegnon, and slipped Zaha clean through to make it 2-0, a wonderful, driving run that sealed the match for the Eagles.
In all, the young Englishman played a stellar match and was one of Crystal Palace’s standout performers, staking his claim for a place in the team of the week and perhaps an England call-up later this year.
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