Damien Delaney was insistent on Christian Benteke not being Crystal Palace’s saviour upon the big Belgian’s arrival at SE25 but many beg to differ. It may not be the Belgian international alone who will propel the Eagle’s season, but he will play a key role.
While the red and blue hasn’t been on their best form defensively in the opening four matches, the back should not be too large a concern for Eagles’ supporters, especially now with Frenchman Steve Mandanda adding confidence, experience, and talent between the sticks. Once Alan Pardew finds a handy piece on “How to Defend a Set-Piece” and manages to pass it on to his players, the pressure and demands will fall on the shoulders of Palace’s creators and executors.
Damien Delaney was cautious to name Cristian Benteke as Palace’s savior, yet, regardless, he must take center stage, along with his wingers, Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha, for Palace to have a good year.
Up north at the Riverside Stadium, Palace fans got a much-needed and encouraging glimpse of Benteke’s relationship with his wide players. Benteke’s goal came from a Wilfried Zaha cross that epitomized the dreams and fantasies of Palace fans before, in the second-half, Wilfried Zaha got a fairly rare goal, considering his shots-to-goal ratios.
Alan Pardew has come to learn that his squad is best equipped to a wide and direct style of play. The club has come to learn this the hard way from last season’s rut where Palace held possession for long periods of time and dominated the tempo of matches, but failed to create consistent goalscoring opportunities. Hopefully, the signing of Benteke signals Pardew’s change of heart where Palace will revert to fast-paced wing-play.
Much like last season and at Middlesborough, the South Londoners will depend on the holding midfielders and Puncheon spraying the ball wide for subsequent service into the box. It’s a service where Benteke, Townsend, and Zaha should thrive as the main event and push their team (and respective careers, for that matter)
Benteke proved to struggle in Liverpool’s intricate passing football. His anonymous performances on Merseyside were a stark contrast to his days at Villa, where he was the focal point of attack and given service in such a way where he got to bully defenders. If Pardew wants to generate a similar goal yield to Benteke’s days in the Midlands, he knows that direct football will be the order of the day. Benteke will be expected to hold up play on the counter-attack, feeding the wingers into space, and asserting himself in the 18-yard box. As
Wilfried Zaha was recently criticized on Match of the Day by Alan Shearer for his low assists numbers. Now, with Benteke there to dominate in the box, the young winger has no excuse not to deliver excellent service this season. Obviously anxious for the next step in his career after his short-lived transfer saga with Tottenham, Zaha must be pushed by Pardew to achieve that step at his boyhood club for the good of all parties. Things look positive for the winger, his goal and assist against Middlesborough was a big boost. Now, it’s about building off of that for Zaha to keep it going for the rest of the season. Maybe, finally he’ll get his England caps, depending on how key he is this season.
Townsend is equally important. The ex-Newcastle player’s extra dash of composure could be useful in big matches. Townsend provides a reliable goal threat and a knack for something spectacular from time to time. His service to Benteke will matter as will his link-up with Jason Puncheon; both players have created the most goalscoring opportunities thus far for Palace.
It’s hard to imagine another way Palace will succeed next season. Wickham has been tried and tested and Pardew does not seem keen on wading into a two-striker system. How Palace do this year will become synonymous to how well Benteke and his wingers do.
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