It was all looking so rosy for Crystal Palace at Christmas. A fantastic start to the season left the Eagles on the brink of the Champions League places, fifth in the table, and looking certain for a top half finish at the very least.
However, a shocking run followed, and Palace are winless this side of Christmas Day. They have dropped to a dismal 15th in the table, and are now more likely to be looking over their shoulders than dreaming of European nights at Selhurst Park.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to this sudden nosedive, mainly the loss of form of some of their key players. If Palace are to recapture some of their early season magic, these three players must return to form.
1. Wayne Hennessey (or his substitute)
Of course, this is assuming that Hennessey will still be starting in the upcoming matches. Much has been said both about his heroics and his shortcomings this season. When the Welsh stopper first came into the fray, he was lauded for a series of match-winning saves. Now, it seems everyone is talking about his clangers in January, his recently poor footwork, and his defenders’ distrust of his form.
Hennessey’s poor form is even more evident in the numbers. The Welshman has a 66.2% save success rate this season, one of the worst in the league and has let in an average of 1.36 goals per match this season, 1.91 since Christmas. Moreover, the back line’s distrust of his aerial abilities from corners and crosses is understandable considering Hennessey ranks 28th in the league for aerial ball claims and punches.
Hennessey’s starting spot is in question and fans would be eager to see the return of cult hero, Julian Speroni. Approaching the twilight of his career, Speroni has bags of experience and proved last season that he is still at the top of his game. Should Speroni be brought into the squad, his leadership and presence will surely instill confidence into the side and boost the club’s chances of a late season surge into the top 10.
Maybe Alex McCarthy will be asked to step up. At Sunderland, it was in fact he who sat on the bench ahead of Speroni. The Englishman got a shorter stint of matches at the start of the season, nevertheless his stats make for nicer reading. Where Hennessey has made roughly 2 saves for every goal, McCarthy has made 4. Palace were playing far better during McCarthy’s run of matches, but the ex-QPR stopper’s performances were more reassuring than Hennessey’s.