Crystal Palace 0-1 West Ham: 45 Minutes Wasted - Five Things We Learned

Written by Robert Sutherland

Is there much to talk about following a narrow 1-0 defeat to West Ham? Robert Sutherland thinks so...

Yohan carrying ball

(Photo by SebastianF)

Damo's defending isn't a problem, but his passing is 

You know what you get with Damien Delaney lining up in the back four. Determination, steel, focus and an indefatigable attitude. But what you also get, and what has become more stark with the squad changing progressively, is that composure when in possession and an ability to see a pass is severely lacking. 
That lack of vision became so stark that, during the second half with Palace pressing for an equaliser, Jason Puncheon repeatedly dropped deep to take possession in an area that Delaney would have been expected to. 
Delaney isn't a bad defender. The goal conceded wasn't his fault and he did his defensive duties as well as could be expected. But when Alan Pardew speaks of wanting to change the squad's style of play, it's players like Delaney that need to make the step up. 

Puncheon shows midfield leadership when others lack it 

There's only so much that Puncheon can do when it comes to finding passes and creating opportunities. From memory, he produced two excellent opportunities in both halves, the most obvious being the pass in to Wilfried Zaha that the winger pulled wide of the far post, and the cross for Connor Wickham's header that West Ham goalkeeper Adrian saved well late in the game. 
Puncheon showed composure during the latter stages of the game that other players couldn't. Rather than hit and hope, he directed play and Palace very nearly capitalised from it. 

The Cabaye comparisons with Rooney are ridiculous 

In the run-up to the West Ham game, following the win over Sunderland and the draw with Everton, a talking point seemed to be that there was a likeness between England's Wayne Rooney problem and Palace's need to fit Yohan Cabaye into the side. 
The comparison was deeply flawed however. Firstly, Palace don't have the luxury that England or Manchester United have when it comes to selecting players. Cabaye is an international quality midfielder and Palace don't have many of those. 
Secondly, as the performance on Saturday showed, when Cabaye was introduced into the side at half time, the midfield difficulty that Palace had suffered from in the first half dissipated. A formation change helped but Cabaye's ability on the ball, his retention of it and his inclination to find players in space made a telling difference. 
Let's give that Rooney/Cabaye comparison thing a rest now. 

Benteke isn't a one-trick pony -- so why do players treat him like one? 

Christian Benteke is great in the air. His ability to head the ball is arguably the best in the division. It's understandable that Palace would try to exploit that -- and the side nearly did when the Belgian international hit the post just seconds after missing his penalty. 
That doesn't mean that every single pass into him should be at head height however. Nor does it mean that every cross should be, or that every through-ball should be. Benteke is capable of so much more and, for the first half at least, the tactic of hoisting the ball up to him clearly didn't work.
While things improved in the second half, with Benteke pointing where he wanted the ball -- to his feet -- Palace still intermitently pumped the ball up to him at head height. And West Ham, with their three centre-backs, dealt with it with ease. 
Whether it's tactical or not, there's much more to see from Benteke than just headed goals. The service must improve to get the best out of him. With or without a penalty miss. 

Palace wasted 45 minutes persisting with a tactic that wasn't working 

West Ham did a great job on Palace in the first half. By lining up with three at the back, and essentially five in midfield (with Dimitri Payet dropping into the midfield frequently) Slaven Bilic's side flooded the centre of the park, reducing Palace's effectiveness entirely. It was obvious after just 15 minutes, and continued to be for another 30. 
It shouldn't have required a wait until half-time to make changes. There's enough flexibility in the side to address the most obvious of issues -- that of Palace's midfield three playing with one defensive midfielder or two. Had Alan Pardew pushed Puncheon and James McArthur into more advanced roles in the first half, it might have seen West Ham's defensive three a little more occupied. 
The second half showed what that tactical change did make. But it's frustrating that it took so long to address it.