Chelsea 1-2 Crystal Palace: History repeats in West London - 5 Things We Learned

Written by FYP Fanzine

Palace won 2-1 at Chelsea AGAIN, the second season in a row. Here are five things we learned from anotehr massive win in West London.

1. It was a matter of time for Sam

Soon after taking over, Sam Allardyce said it would take until the end of March for people to see the impact he was having on the team. And true to that timeline, the team has now won four on the bounce with Saturday’s triumph at Stamford Bridge being the highlight. He has got his players organised and drilled to his methods to the extent that substitutes enter the game seamlessly; whether it was Scott Dann for James Tomkins, Damien Delaney on for Dann or indeed Martin Kelly in a formation change. There is a definite shift in role identification which is manifesting itself into a team shape which allows the likes of Wilfried Zaha the freedom to sparkle.

2. Wilf the academy dream

When Geroge Burley handed Zaha his first start in 2010, he responded with a goal and like with many academy products before him, the fans dared to dream. But, unlike most, Wilf is now at the stage where is becoming the player we all dream academy products to be; fortunately for Palace fans, he is becoming that player while at the club. Saturday’s goal demonstrated his development - the ball stayed close, his head stayed down but he knew where the goal was. Unlike before, he timed his shot perfectly and didn’t take on the extra man. His assist was a quick release; something again which shows a marked improvement.

3. The defence has a shield

Wayne Hennessey seems more confident with Mamadou Sakho marshalling the defence and while the latter’s impact is measurable and obvious, Luka Milivojevic’s influence in the team’s shape and victories should not be overlooked. While he has gone about it quietly, he has shielded the defence immaculately, covered full-backs when they have moved forward, allowed Jason Puncheon and Yohan Cabaye the ability to influence the game further up the pitch and himself been a springboard for counter-attacks. He has a more all-round game than the ball-winners that we used to seeing at Palace in recent history; Saturday showed two interceptions, four blocks, two clearances all together with a pass completion of 84%. He could end up being Big Sam’s biggest impact.

4. Ward’s quiet improvement

Joel Ward’s Palace career has been a rollercoaster; Dougie Freedman soon dropping him after signing him, Tony Pulis utilising him at left-back and midfield, a section of Palace fans calling for an England call-up followed by a 2016 which epitomised the team’s form. Such was his state when Allardyce arrived, the club spend a month pursuing Carl Jenkinson to be a £7 million replacement. However, since then, Ward has benefited as much as any player from the shift in focus from attacking to defending. His positioning has improved as less is required from him going forward, his use of the ball is less hesitant and he is striking an understanding with Andros Townsend which is reminiscent of the Mariappa-Puncheon partnership on the right side under Pulis. His return to form has been long in coming and is much needed. The key for him now is to sustain it.

5. Complacency must not follow form

While four wins in a row goes a long way to improving Palace’s survival chances, it is critical that complacency does not enter the mind-sets of the players or fans. The wins have come on the back of a dire loss to Sunderland which was perhaps the kick-start the team needed. The victory over Chelsea must not have the opposite impact of thinking the job is done. It is far from done with a tough set of fixtures ahead. Hull’s late goal against West Ham showed Palace cannot rely on results elsewhere – while recent form has put our destiny in our hands, becoming complacent will let that slip from our grasp.

Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford: Zero Shots, Three Points - Five Things We Learned

Written by Robert Sutherland

Palace secured a hard-fought win over Watford. Here are five things Rob learned. 

Benteke needs support and service to score

As surreal as it was to witness, Christian Benteke's minor flare-up of frustration at Wilfried Zaha late in the second half was symptomatic of a player fighting a bout of low confidence. Zaha's pass was delivered a little too late and a little too wide, but it still left the Belgian striker with enough of an opportunity to get a shot off. That he didn't just shows how panicked Benteke is at the moment.

The service to Palace's lone striker hasn't been great. The win over Watford saw no shots on goal whatsoever. He needs passes and crosses to score from, and he's getting neither at the moment. Benteke is clearly desperate to score, as shown by his outburst at Andros Townsend in the win over Middlesbrough

If there is a positive to take from Benteke's performances, it is that there is little question about his commitment or his energy. Since Allardyce's arrival, he has been instrumental in Palace's high-pressing of defenders, allowing his side the opportunity to regain possession.

More work, more passes and more crosses will see him score soon enough. 


Ward is working

Joel Ward's performances since last season have been a point of contention for Palace fans. In a more open, less intensively defensive side, Ward lacks some of the qualities needed. His passing isn't wonderful, his positioning can be a little suspect and his reading of the game a little questionable too.  However, under a manager that organises teams with precision, Ward is the ideal full-back.

He defends without nonsense, can take control of the ball in tight scenarios and does some of the attacking parts too. It's telling you that Allardyce was happy to forgo the signing of Carl Jenkinson during the January window. 

His performance against Watford, against a quick and direct opponent in M'Baye Niang, made a big difference to Palace's performance. His passing wasn't great but he made up for it with an excellent defensive performance. It's good to see. 

Sakho's quality isn't just defending 

The headline statistic whenever Mamadou Sakho's signing at Palace comes up is that Palace have kept three clean sheets since he started playing for the club. It's a great stat and shows just what a great addition he is to Palace's defence. However, one of the better stats is that of his pass completion rate. According to Squakwa, of 38 attempted passes, he had an accuracy of 82%. 

Sakho doesn't just bring defensive quality to Palace's team but he brings all the features of an international standard centre back. Composure under pressure, an ability to read the game and an eye for a quality pass. Sakho takes the ball, controls it and makes a decision suitable to what he sees in front of him. It's not the work of a genius but it's something Palace have missed. 

Fitness shows after 90-minutes of hard work

If there's ever an example of how Allardyce has given the fitness of his players priority, it's the performance of Yohan Cabaye. The Frenchman, so often substituted at the 65-minute mark in games under the previous regime, went 84 minutes before needing to be substituted against Watford. This despite running himself into the ground -- another change in his performance. 

Cabaye isn't the only player where improved fitness has shown. The entire squad looks better focused as matches reach the latter stages. And with that additional focus comes a greater ability to deal with teams looking to score late equalisers or winners. Palace's three wins are down to myriad factors, but fitness is one of the key ones. The squad just looks healthier. 

High-pressing brings high standard

The defensive work that Wilfried Zaha, Townsend and Benteke are doing in this Palace side shouldn't be underestimated. All three players are working tirelessly to pressure opponent defenders when in possession. By doing so, they rush them to make passes they can't complete. They also press the better quality players with the intention of exposing those who aren't so great under pressure.

The result is a greater ability to regain the ball. It's worth reviewing the game to see just how many times Watford were forced to play the ball back to their defenders or their goalkeeper.

And with each of those passes, one of the front three was there to put the player under some kind of pressure to rush them into a decision. While it's simply effective, it also requires fitness, focus and dedication to repeatedly chase those passes. 

What did you think? Comment below...

West Brom 0-2 Crystal Palace: Eagles make it two wins on the bounce - 5 things we learned

Written by FYP Fanzine

Another win for Palace and ANOTHER clean sheet. This time at West Brom getting revenge over Tony Pulis. Here are five things we learned from that win at the Hawthorns...

1 – Intelligent Wing-Play the Key

Palace fans are used to wingers who entertain – Vince Hilaire, John Salako, Wayne Routledge, Victor Moses and Yannick Bolasie to name a few. The challenge that lies ahead for the present incumbents, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend is to not simply entertain but to make meaningful contributions in all phases of play, with and without the ball.

Helping out the full-backs yet always available to the midfielders, Zaha and Townend’s goals capped off the display of intelligent wing play from them both – swapping sides, coming central and looking to deliver dangerous crosses. Palace’s disjointed team shape throughout 2016 meant the wingers’ roles were sometimes lost; Sam Allardyce’s team now looks like it can provide the backbone needed for the wingers to impact games.

2 – Sakho More Than Just a Centre-Back

Mamadou Sakho is, fundamentally, an excellent centre back and has shown as much at club and international level. While Allardyce waited on the fitness coaches’ green light to get him involved, the result has been two clean sheets and six points. And while his defensive work has been immense, he brings more than that to the team. He brings a strong, vocal presence whose use of the ball remains calm and measured.

He gives an assurance to those around him as evidenced by the improvement in James Tomkins and along with Luka Milivojević has enabled Jason Puncheon and Yohan Cabaye to be relieved of some of their defensive duties. Sakho is very much the cornerstone of Palace’s revival – let’s hope he can stay fit.

3 – Cabaye Finally Let Loose

There has been much debate around Yohan Cabaye since his arrival at Palace centred around his very role. Some thought the club had signed an attacking playmaker to sit behind the striker. Others considered him a deep-lying playmaker who starts moves. And while he has excelled in interceptions, ground coverage and pass completion statistics, his actual role remained a quandary for many.

Allardyce, however, seems to have found the role for Cabaye which fits somewhere between the ‘10’ and ‘4’ fans have argued over. He still drops deep to get the ball, but with Milivojević patrolling that area, he is free of a pure defensive focus.

He is given a licence roam somewhat while maintaining a discipline to drop back when the team is not in possession. In doing so, he has had some shackles released and, after 18 months, some synergy with Puncheon is developing.

4 – Puncheon the Unlikely Leader

When the teams emerged against Middlesboro, there was some intrigue not only in Puncheon’s selection over James McArthur, but also him being given the captaincy in the absence of Scott Dann and Damien Delaney. Big Sam followed this up with a statement on Friday which was a glowing endorsement of Punch’s character to fit the role and when Dann has entered the field of play, the captaincy has not reverted to the centre back.

While Puncheon has been a talisman for Palace’s survival on two occasions with critical goals and assists, this time his role takes on an added element to lead – time for one of our own to do it again.

5 – Team Organisation Can Mask Potential Weak Links

Two wins in a row and back to back clean sheets demonstrate huge strides for the team in a battle to survive. With Allardyce finally able to get his message to the players, the importance of team shape and organisation have never been so apparent. Two players who have been weak links at times over the last 15 months, Wayne Hennessey and Joel Ward, are being less exposed in the tactical shift which is now being implemented.

While the manager’s impact may not have been immediate, it is clear that in the absence of being able to sign an entire new starting XI, he has understood how the existing players can be organised so as to avoid the exploitation of previously targeted areas.

Joel Ward appears to be under instruction to be more selective in when he supports the wingers and at the same time, the midfield is quicker to block potential shots from central areas as Hennessey had been previously targeted. This may have resulted in a number of dreary games tactically, but if it manifests itself into a structured approach with a long term platform to build from, and if Palace survive, it may be worth the wait.

What did you think of that win? Comment below...


Crystal Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough - Palace Secure Rare Home Win - Five Things We Learned

Written by Naveed Khan

Crystal Palace secured a rare home win against Middlesbrough with a performance of defensive mettle and opportunism. Here's Naveed Khan with five things we learned this weekend. 

Tomkins Boro Win

Sakho and Milivojevic add backbone

Two months after Sam Allardyce arrived at Palace, he was able to field a team which addressed the issues he identified early on. A strong, quick and calm centre-back in Mamadou Sakho and a midfield minder who can help shield the back four in Luka Milivojevic added some desperately-needed backbone to a team previously fragile in both shape and confidence.

Tougher tests for the team are ahead but it was a positive step forward with the new players having their desired impact on the team’s organisation and their teammates.

Time for new leaders to emerge

Since the departure of Mile Jedinak, the significant loss of form of Scott Dann and the gradual decline of Damien Delaney, the team has lacked the presence of leaders who could galvanise a team in need of organisation and confidence. A win without Dann and Delaney starting is a platform to build on, it is now time for new leaders to emerge to ensure the team can survive in the Premier League.

The captaincy had a positive impact on Jason Puncheon who was less hesitant, more vocal and generally more present than he has been so far this season and Joel Ward seemed to also thrive with the responsibility of being the mainstay of the defence. The team needs to go from an absence of leaders to an abundance of them.

Townsend needs to emerge from the shadows

Andros Townsend has been floating between enigma and failure thus far in a Palace shirt; rather than there being a mix of good and absent games, he’s had one outstanding game and a couple showing little more than a flicker of promise. However, being utilised on his favoured wing and no chance of an escape from the club until May at least, he has in recent weeks shown a greater aptitude for the task at hand.

This culminated on Saturday with him tracking back to help Ward as well as being involved in moves going forward and making himself increasingly visible to Yohan Cabaye and Puncheon when they had the ball. While Newcastle were relegated, Townsend was their shining light in the final 12 games – a repeat of the latter for Palace would be timely.

Allardyce was right about individual improvements  

Speaking last week, Big Sam spoke of the need of small improvements needed in individuals and how this would in turn show significant turnaround in the team’s output. Saturday, without getting carried away, was a demonstration of this. Players who had previously been making errors cut these down significantly; Ward, James Tomkins and Jason Puncheon in particular.

This in turn allowed the likes of Cabaye to impact the game as a playmaker from deep without having to cover the errors of those around him with the knock on effect of the creative players to effect the game with the ball.  It’s taking him time, but perhaps two weeks without a game has enabled the manager to work towards the crucial balance between defence and attack.

Treat the win as a platform and maintain perspective

There have been a few false dawns since the awful run of 2016 started, two of which have been under this manager. Watford, where an improved performance yielded just a point after a penalty miss and a sloppy conceded penalty and Bournemouth which was followed by a capitulation against Sunderland.

With that in mind, it is important we do not let the squad’s apparent quality and a win against a relegation rival mask what is still a huge task ahead. Improvements were clear in defence, midfield and team shape. However, there was still a need to create more up front and to completely cut out errors at the back – there was some fortune in Wayne Hennessey’s late flap at a corner was not costly. The win was important, the points vital and a base established; but it was not a complete performance and the small margins being improved upon need to be demonstrated against WBA and Watford. The win turned what felt like a gloomy relegation scrap into an interesting close to the season; but a sense of perspective must prevail.

What did you learn? Comment below...