Lack of sharpness told
Despite Osian Roberts suggesting otherwise, it was clear on Sunday that Crystal Palace’s preparation and lack of match fitness were big factors in their lacklustre performance in north London.
Positive Covid-19 tests and injuries meant the Eagles squad were without seven first-team players and manager Patrick Vieira for their trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which they had reportedly requested to the Premier League be postponed.
Despite all this, they named a relatively strong starting XI for the game, with Joachim Andersen – making his first start in just over a month – the only change from the 2-2 draw against Southampton 11 days ago.
Palace started the game well, but the two quickfire goals they conceded after the half-hour mark demonstrated a sluggishness that hasn’t too often reared its head for the Eagles this season.
James Tomkins was caught out of position for Harry Kane’s opener, while moments later, Joel Ward was on the halfway line when the ball broke for Lucas Moura’s second.
The Brazilian was able to ghost past Cheikhou Kouyate into the box and then wasn’t spotted by Andersen, meaning one of the smallest players on the pitch was able to get a simple jump on the 6ft 2ins Dane and head the ball past Jack Butland.
There were fewer of these mistakes during the second half, mainly because Palace had to employ a low block while they played with ten men as opposed to the high line they played for the majority of the first 45 minutes.
This should not be a debate that needs to keep cropping up. Wilfried Zaha’s legacy as a Crystal Palace legend is secured, but moments of madness like this show the 29-year-old in an ugly light.
With an injury and Covid-19 depleted squad and another match in 48 hours time, getting yourself sent off in the manner he did was reckless.
The Eagles already had their backs up against the wall being 2-0 down, but trying to get anything out of the game with a player short was nigh-on impossible.
It’s not the first time Zaha has lashed out in retaliation to an opposition player. Take away that fire and he isn’t the same player – he feeds off the energy of the game.
Zaha can probably say that referee Jonathan Moss was quick to pull out his cards, and there’s no doubt that his first offence on Davinson Sanchez was a harsh booking. But it’s the loss of composure for the second challenge – planting two hands on Sanchez off the ball and pushing him to the floor – that he can have no qualms about. It was reckless.
The Eagles will lose Zaha to the Africa Cup of Nations in January but not before he serves a one-game suspension against Norwich on Tuesday night. If Palace fail to win that game a small part of the blame could fall at the Ivorian’s door, something which he should have relatively few complaints about.
Palace’s biggest test ahead
The next five weeks could easily turn out to be the biggest test Crystal Palace have to face this season.
The Eagles have five matches starting with the visit of Norwich to Selhurst Park on Tuesday, and Covid-19, AFCON and injuries mean the squad will be stretched thin over the New Year period.
Players will return from isolation and be expected to feature in matchday squads quickly after, while the threat of further cases will hang over everybody’s heads as the Eagles try their best to prepare for games.
Zaha, Kouyate and Jordan Ayew will miss a chunk of those games due to their involvement at AFCON which will leave Vieira’s squad depleted further, meaning supporters might well see the emergence of some younger prospects and a first start for Eberechi Eze of the season.
“We knew this was coming,” said Roberts when asked about the players leaving for AFCON. “We feel that we’ve got players that can step in and are ready to step in. There’ll be an opportunity for some players to be stepping into the team and make the most of their opportunities.”
Despite the defeat, the best moment of the day for the travelling away support was undoubtedly witnessing the debut of Nathan Ferguson off the bench with ten minutes left in the game.
After a nightmare 18 months of injuries, the youngster received a huge burst of applause from the far corner of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as he ran onto the pitch in place of Tyrick Mitchell.
“We’ve liked what we’ve seen, he’s worked hard and deserved his opportunity today,” said Roberts after the game. “We know there’s a lot to come from him and we look forward to him being an integral part of the group.”
The initial plan for Ferguson was to get him playing Under-23s football before he made his natural progression into the first team, but with the recent Covid outbreak that plan was accelerated forward.
Now the full-back will get a chance to play himself into selection, and will naturally be hoping he impresses enough to displace Joel Ward in the side on the right.
Source by Football London