Nemanja Matic scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as Manchester United overturned a two-goal deficit to inflict more pain on struggling Crystal Palace. Matic fired home from 25 yards to complete a memorable comeback from United, whose victory helped them regain second spot in the Premier League. Palace, meanwhile, remain in the relegation zone after slipping to their third successive defeat.
Selhurst Park was rocking when Andros Townsend put the hosts ahead via a huge deflection, before Patrick van Aanholt doubled their lead shortly after the break. However, Chris Smalling gave United hope 10 minutes later and the visitors then restored parity through Romelu Lukaku. With time ebbing away the draw looked inevitable, only for Matic to break Palace’s hearts with his first goal for the club. Here are three talking points…
Palace’s survival hopes suffer a hammer blow
A week earlier, the Eagles thought they had earned a vital point against Spurs in their battle to avoid the drop. That was until Harry Kane popped up to snatch victory with practically the last touch of the game. A sense of deja-vu was palpable when, after another encouraging performance against one of the top-flight’s heavyweights, Matic ensured Palace went home empty-handed. It was a monumental body blow.
Roy Hodgson’s side had belied their lowly league position and taken the attack to United, deservedly assuming complete control. Had the score remained at 2-0, Palace would have been as high as 13th in the table. But United’s comeback, which left Hodgon and his players visibly deflated, means they are 18th, one point adrift of safety with an inferior goal difference. Although the performance was a positive one, the result leaves the South London club deep in the mire.
Mourinho buoyed as United show resilience
For all the talk about how this has been a disappointing campaign for United, they leapfrogged Liverpool into second place as a result of this stunning victory. Jose Mourinho’s men exhibited substantial amounts of steel in doing so. They faced a real test of character, having fallen behind against a team fighting for their lives. It looked like a mountainous task, but United fought their way back into the game before snatching all three points at the death.
This was the first time since 2013 that the Red Devils had clawed back a two-goal deficit to win a Premier League match. Of all their victories this season, perhaps this one will please Mourinho the most. Any divisions are quickly exposed when teams find themselves in trouble. But the way United stuck to their task was a big statement at a key stage of the season. It should give Mourinho belief that his side can see off the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the battle to finish runners-up.
Hodgson desperate for Wilfried Zaha’s return
Hodgson has previously tried to dismiss its significance, but Palace’s inability to win without Wilfried Zaha cannot be passed off as an anomaly. The Eagles have lost every single one of the nine Premier League games in which the 25-year-old has not featured this season, scoring only one goal in the process. For a while it looked as though that alarming record would be consigned to the history books, until United mounted an inspired comeback.
Zaha is clearly a talented individual whose absence would affect any team’s potency, but Palace’s over-reliance on him must be very concerning. The Ivory Coast international is currently sidelined through a knee injury and although he is back in light training, Hodgson has put no timeframe on his return to the fold. It’s no exaggeration to argue the Eagles’ survival aspirations depend on him.
Crystal Palace’s Premier League run-in could see them beat the drop
The Eagles are in the relegation zone with eight matches to play.
On the surface, Crystal Palace has little to cheer at the moment. Their last win came exactly two months ago, and although Roy Hodgson brought an initial uptick in results to Selhurst Park, the Eagles currently occupy 18th position.
Furthermore, Palace are coming off a brutal stretch of three straight losses to top-five clubs, all of which they excruciatingly lost by the solitary goal. Injuries have destroyed their first-team squad to the extent that an entire starting 11 can be compiled with players on the treatment table.
Yet, although this picture may appear bleak, a favourable run-in combined with the anticipated return of crucial players means Crystal Palace will be confident of retaining their Premier League status for a fifth straight season.
After a grueling stretch of matches versus Tottenham, Manchester United, and Chelsea, the remaining eight matches present a plethora of winnable fixtures against teams in the bottom half of the table. Palace will play Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Brighton, Watford, Leicester, Stoke, and West Brom; a run-in of dreams.
The only match where the Eagles would not be expected to pick up all three points is the March 31st encounter with Liverpool. But Palace have shown remarkable fighting spirit and drive in their matches against the top sides in the division.
Crystal Palace near toppled Manchester City back in December, they raced out to a 2-0 lead against Manchester United, came within minutes of a draw against Spurs, and deserved a draw against Chelsea but were denied by a questionable disallowed goal.
The vital return of integral players in the coming weeks is also a massive boost for Palace’s survival hopes. On Monday, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, and Mamadou Sakho all returned to training.
Welcoming these experienced professionals back into the first team set-up will be priceless, as all four returning players played enormous roles in the early revival under Hodgson.
Add in a run-in brimming with winnable fixtures, and the Eagles should just about have enough to avoid relegation come May.
Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham: Harry Kane proves his class with late winner
Tottenham managed to get a late winner against Crystal Palace to move into the Champions League places. They were the dominant force and had the better chances, but their final product wasn’t as reliable as usual. It looked as if an injury-hit Palace would earn a valuable point, but Harry Kane scored late on to win the game.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men are hitting form at the right time and look a good bet to finish in the top four for the third successive season. Meanwhile, Roy Hodgson was visibly frustrated at the end of the game and he will be aware of his team’s position.
They are only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference and have a number of key players unavailable with matches against Manchester United and Chelsea on the horizon. Here are three talking points to come out of the game at Selhurst Park:
Harry Kane proved why he is world class
The England international will be the first to admit it wasn’t his best performance. He had six shots during the match and missed a couple of really good chances before he finally did find the back of the net.
However, he remained confident and continued to take attempts on goal. It was a good header and earned the side a crucial two points.
Although Kane can miss a lot of chances and he did during this match, he doesn’t allow himself to get affected by his misses. Alvaro Morata is a high-profile striker that appears to lose confidence in himself after a big miss and that is a worrying trait to have as a goal-scorer.
The Tottenham number ten doesn’t have that and a miss only motivates him more. That was evident on Sunday. That shows an elite level mentality and one of the reasons why Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world. Despite playing poorly against Crystal Palace, he worked hard and got the crucial goal. That is all that matters.
Crystal Palace’s injury crisis could cost them their Premier League status
With ten matches to go, Crystal Palace will be confident that they can stay up as they have a more talented squad than the majority of clubs down there.
However, a lot of their best players are out injured right now and they were hindered by that on Sunday. They had only 24% possession and offered little attacking threat.
They were missing Wilfried Zaha, Scott Dann, Yohan Cabaye, Jason Puncheon, Joel Ward, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and a number of other first-team players. Their woes were compounded on Sunday as James Tomkins was forced off with an injury.
Palace’s next two matches are against Manchester United and Chelsea, two teams competing for a Champions League place. On one hand, these are tough matches that they would be outsiders in with a fit squad, therefore it is beneficial these are being played now.
That said, they are slipping closer to the relegation zone and building negative momentum at a bad time. Supporters will be more worried than they were at the beginning of the month.
Eric Dier impressed at centre-back
The 24-year-old is a great squad player to have and he showed his versatility on Sunday as he filled in at centre-back in the absence of Jan Vertonghen.
Toby Alderweireld suffered a setback and it was important that Tottenham fielded a player with experience there. Dier has benefitted from focusing on the midfield role in terms of development, but he remains able of filling in at the back.
During the match, he won four aerial duels and completed four ball recoveries. The time spent playing midfield has helped him develop on the ball and his distribution was very good on Sunday, as he completed 90% of his passes.
Tottenham will be hopeful of getting both Alderweireld and Vertonghen back together at the heart of their defence for the run-in, but the fact that they kept a clean sheet without both is encouraging. They have built a strong squad under Pochettino with plenty of options in every posiion and Dier’s centre-back display underlines that.
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.
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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