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Is Wilfried Zaha now fulfilling his undoubted potential at Crystal Palace?

Jake Jackman

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Zaha

Crystal Palace finally got their first goals and points on the board after a great victory at home against Premier League champions Chelsea. Every Palace player did well, but their standout performer was the returning Wilfried Zaha. The attacker had been missing since the opening weekend, but his return injected life into the team and they looked a more potent outfit.

Roy Hodgson surprised the Palace faithful when the team-sheet listed Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend as strikers, but it was a good decision from the manager. Their mobility and movement caused problems for the Chelsea defence, as they were being dragged all over the place. It was important that the Eagles found a way to set-up without Christian Benteke and this innovation from their new manager found instant success.

The 24-year-old is still young, but he is emerging as the main man in this Crystal Palace team. He scored the second goal to restore the home side’s lead and it will go down as the first goal scored by a Palace player this season, due to the first strike being recorded as a Cesar Azpilicueta own goal. It was a great finish and showed that Zaha was capable of playing in a central position.

In fact, he can be even more threatening in central areas, as he can run directly at the centre-backs with the option of changing to move in either direction. His movement can be limited at times on the wing, but he has freedom in the centre and the early signs are that he will thrive as a result. Zaha is one of the best dribblers in the league and that was evident on Saturday as he completed six during the match.

The Ivory Coast international is always willing to take the game to the opposition defence and prepared to step up in pressure situations. It was difficult to return to a Palace side that was rooted to the bottom of the table without a goal, but he is now ready to be the central figure at Selhurst Park and that shows a maturity on his part. It won’t be easy for the side to fight off relegation after a terrible start. Zaha gives them hope.

Is he now fulfilling his potential?

There have been a lot of good players come through at Crystal Palace during the last ten years, with Victor Moses and Nathaniel Clyne now both playing for clubs in the top-six. However, it was long thought that Zaha could be the best player that the club have ever produced and at the age of 24, there is still time for him to reach the level that everyone thought was possible.

As a teenager, he broke into the Palace first-team and wowed supporters with his pace and trickery on the wings. He became a first-team regular during the 2010-11 season and played over 40 Championship matches for three successive campaigns. There were rough edges to his game, with the main criticism centring on his lack of defensive contribution. However, it was difficult to deny his raw potential and there was enough about him to convince Manchester United to sign him in January 2013 before being loaned back to South London.

Sir Alex Ferguson believed that Zaha had potential and that he would ‘enjoy coming to the club’. This was at the time that the deal was announced, but the legendary manager retired before the winger arrived and many believe that had a negative effect on his career. The Scottish manager was excellent at developing young players and his retirement led to a period of uncertainty at Old Trafford. This wasn’t beneficiary for a young player coming into the club and timing was the key reason for his failure to succeed at Manchester United.

During his time at the club, he only made two Premier League appearances that totalled a meagre 28 minutes. It was unusual for Manchester United to sign a young player and not give him an opportunity, but the upheaval caused by the retirement of Ferguson meant that he was considered a huge risk. David Moyes and Louis van Gaal both decided to play it safe, which led to Zaha’s departure. The following quotes reported by the Mirror show that he doesn’t have fond memories of his time there.

“Yes at times I was depressed. I felt a lot of things. When I don’t play well nobody needs to say anything to me. I beat myself up. It stresses me out if I mess it up.”

It wasn’t that he didn’t play well, but that he wasn’t given the opportunity to play at all. There will always be a lot of questions regarding Zaha’s career and what direction it would have taken if Ferguson had remained for at least one more season. Ian Holloway told Sky Sports that he believes the winger would have become the ‘next Cristiano Ronaldo’ under the guidance of the former United manager.

“If Sir Alex Ferguson hadn’t retired, then Wilfried Zaha could’ve been the next Cristiano Ronaldo. I honestly believe that.”

The claim from a man that once managed Zaha is outlandish, but it underlines how highly rated the attacker was at the time of signing for Manchester United. The club must have seen world-class potential to part with £15 million for a player with no top-flight experience and it is a shame that he wasn’t given a real chance to thrive in Manchester.

However, United’s loss has been Crystal Palace’s gain. It has taken him some time to get over the failure at Old Trafford, but he has been superb during the last 12 months and is playing the best football of his career. Last season, he contributed seven goals and nine assists, in what was his best Premier League season to date. He had a goal involvement every 189.1 minutes. Considering he was playing in a team fighting relegation, that is an excellent record.

In addition to his attacking contributions, Zaha recorded eight yellow cards in the Premier League. Although that may appear a bad thing, it shows his determination to do well and willingness to contribute out of possession. The short period working under Sam Allardyce would have done wonders for this part of his game.

Crystal Palace are facing another season fighting for their lives at the bottom of the division, but their star player continues to develop and he still has time to reach the top of the English game. There were links with Tottenham during the summer and that would be a move that would make sense for him, as he would get the chance to work with Mauricio Pochettino.

Zaha is now ready to take that next step, but his loyalty to Palace means that he will want to help them stay up before considering another transfer away. If he continues to perform like he did against Chelsea, there is every chance that the Eagles could complete a miraculous escape.

Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace will be kicking themselves over Mandela Egbo

The England youth international left Crystal Palace in 2015.

Mathew Coull

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Young English winger Keanan Bennetts made the news this week, by completing a move to German side Borussia Monchengladbach. The 19-year-old turned his back on Tottenham Hotspur in order to make the move to Germany, a move that is becoming more and more regular.

Jadon Sancho, Ryan Kent and Reece Oxford all played in the Bundesliga this season, whilst Ademola Lookman was on fire for RB Leipzig by the end of the campaign.

But one young man who did the same thing will surely be leaving a sour taste in the mouth at Crystal Palace.

The player in question is 20-year-old defender Mandela Egbo. He is now one of Bennetts’ new team-mates at Gladbach and will no doubt be helping his fellow Londoner settle in the North Rhine-Westphalia.

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Hackney-born Egbo started his career at Crystal Palace. He swiftly rose through the ranks at the club and looked like a genuine talent for his country as well. Egbo was a member of the England squad that won the European Under-17 Championships back in 2014.

But in 2015 he decided he wanted to leave Crystal Palace. The defender joined Gladbach, where he played with their B team and saw a clearer pathway toward first-team football.

Egbo has since gone on to make his Bundesliga debut and Palace fans will realise they are now missing out on a real talent.

At 20-years-old he now appears to have matured into a very talented footballer. He simply felt that rather than getting a chance at Palace, the Eagles would always buy a new defender instead of giving him a shot.

(Photo by Raquel Costa/Getty Images)

Undoubtedly, it looks as though this has been a good career move for Egbo. Palace, on the other hand, will be disappointed they never managed to keep him in London.

Roy Hodgson would have been delighted to have a player of Egbo’s natural quality available to him in the Palace squad for next season.

Whilst fans at Selhurst Park will be gutted Egbo is not an Eagle anymore, they will no doubt wish him all the best in the Bundesliga. And who knows? Maybe, one day, Egbo will make a return to his boyhood club.

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Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha would be an underwhelming signing for Liverpool

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Photo: Getty Images.

Liverpool have become the latest top six club to be linked with Crystal Palace ace Wilfried Zaha as the Liverpool Echo included the Reds as one of many sides believed to be chasing the Ivory Coast winger.

However, if the club do make a move for the 25-year-old, it would show a lack of ambition after what many have perceived to be a season of progress as Liverpool have reached the Champions League final whilst retaining their top four spot.

On paper, a wideman with strength and pace who scores goals would be ready-made for Jurgen Klopp’s attacking set-up and could provide a much needed rotation option alongside the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane up-front.

Despite that, it would be a huge gamble to invest in Zaha. One reason for that is that he has showed his best form at Selhurst Park in the second half of 2017/18 as Roy Hodgson gave the winger a free role in attack, allowing him freedom to switch between flanks and centrally in a number ten role.

(during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on March 31, 2018 in London, England.

At Anfield, Zaha would not possess such an option, and if he tried to maintain many of the key traits of his game of cutting inside and drifting around near the opposition box, he would be standing on the toes of established regulars like Salah and Firmino.

Then there is the concern over Zaha’s ability to adapt. His previous spell at Manchester United hinted at the fact that he has struggled with the associated pressure of being at a big club like Liverpool or their north-western rivals, which will be a concern for any club paying the astronomical transfer fee that Crystal Palace would demand for his services.

The winger has undoubted potential, but as Champions League finalists and with money to spend, Liverpool can afford to go after established stars rather than taking expensive gambles on unproven men who have a history of inconsistency.

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West Ham can’t afford to lose Michail Antonio to Crystal Palace

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Photo: Getty Images.

Uncertainty surrounds West Ham United as a summer rollercoaster looks inevitable with big changes on and off the field. That is starting with a change in the dug-out, where The Times say that former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is favourite to replace David Moyes. The club could pay a heavy price though, with Michail Antonio potentially at risk.

The Guardian say that London rivals Crystal Palace are looking to do their transfer business early and could pounce on the chaos at the London Stadium to poach the winger away from the Hammers.

The former Sheffield Wednesday man missed much of the 2017/18 season with on and off injuries from bruised ribs to calf strains and a pulled hamstring, which may suggest that now could be the right time to cash in on the explosive 28-year-old who relies on physicality and dynamic pace.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images,)

Yet despite that, West Ham cannot afford to be tempted into selling. Despite being sidelined by injury at various points throughout the season, when fit Antonio was always one of the first names on the team sheet under both Slaven Bilic and David Moyes.

Antonio’s tenacity and determination shows why a new manager, whether it is Pellegrini or not, should look to build their team around the winger. Able to play in a variety of roles and a real fan favourite, the unpopular Irons board would be taking a huge gamble by allowing Antonio to depart.

It is no surprise that Palace are interested, and had it not been for injury some much more high profile clubs could have come calling, but West Ham must retain the services of Michail Antonio if they are to pursue hopes of pushing for Europe.

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