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Why Wilfried Zaha is key to Crystal Palace’s survival hopes this season

At only 24 years of age, Wilfried Zaha has already had a turbulent footballing career. The journey so far for the Ivorian has been filled with promise and potential but also it’s fair share of disappointment and frustration. He ultimately paid the price for bursting onto the scene at such a young age; he made his senior footballing debut at the age of 17 for Crystal Palace in 2010. By 2013 he had signed for Manchester United for £10 million, but his stay at Old Trafford was short lived. Zaha returned to Selhurst Park after two unsuccessful seasons with the Red Devils, where things are starting to take shape for the winger. The 2016/17 season has already produced three goals and seven assists. For a player who has often been called out for his lack of end product, it seems as though Zaha is starting to establish himself as a key player for Crystal Palace. Will he be able to steer them towards a top 10 finish in this Premier League season?

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When Zaha started to climb the ranks at Crystal Palace he was already being compared to Victor Moses, a fellow graduate from the Eagles academy, by then manager Neil Warnock. “I’d never seen kids like them. He had tremendous ability, like Victor, he had so much natural talent – he didn’t have to practise anything,” said Warnock. High praise, indeed, for Zaha at a young age, but it was hard not to get excited about this tricky winger. His explosive pace and flair caused havoc for defences in the Championship throughout his first spell at Palace. Of course Zaha was still very raw, and had questions asked about his attitude. He openly showed his emotions on the football pitch, whether a shrug of the shoulders or a grimace on his face, when unhappy with a teammate. In the January transfer window of 2013, Zaha still had these critiques shadowing him, yet his natural ability on the ball was too good to resist for Manchester United. They spent £10 million on the then 20-year-old winger. Sadly for him his time at Old Trafford yielded just four appearances, before he re-joined the Eagles in February 2015. It was a loan move that signalled Zaha, who, whilst seemingly having all the ability, still had some maturing and nurturing to undergo as a footballer.

Now permanently back at Crystal Palace, Wilfried Zaha has scored eight goals and has nine assists since the start of the 2015/16 season. Whilst still not the most decorated statistics for someone of his calibre, it’s a vast improvement for a player trying to shake off the tag of having little end product. His performances as a whole have much improved; he won Palace’s player of year for the 2015/16 season. A large amount of credit for his rise in form surely has to go to manager Alan Pardew, who has provided Zaha with the platform to express confidence on the field of play rather than dissatisfaction. His growth in confidence since rejoining The Eagles is clear to see, increasingly so in this current 2016/17 season. Take his goal against Hull City in the recent 3-3 draw. Zaha picks the ball up 30 yards away from goal and drives towards the penalty area, where he powers past two hapless Hull City defenders before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. He had no right to score from the situation he found himself him, yet a mixture of his outstanding natural abilities and exuberance meant he had every chance. His expression as he rushed towards the jubilant travelling supporters showcased just how pumped he was; you could certainly see the fire in his belly.

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Perhaps another reason for Zaha’s recent personal success is playing regularly in a side that’s boasts a lot more talent, compared to previous sides he has played in. Although Crystal Palace have had a woeful 2016, averaging a total of 0.71 points per game (the worst out of any side in England’s top four leagues), they have the capability of performing to a much higher standard. Players such as Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend and Yohan Cabaye have replaced the likes of James Vaughan, Neil Danns and Darren Ambrose. This not only highlights the difference in calibre of player plying their trade at Selhurst Park, but shows the ambitions of the club looking to the future. Yet Crystal Palace are currently lingering down in 17th place, precariously close to the drop zone. It’s easy to look at the negatives in their situation, but there is no doubting that Alan Pardew has the squad at his dispense capable of recovering their season. The player key to their chances of securing safety is Wilfried Zaha.

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