Crystal Palace have exciting players but are they an exciting team?


Crystal Palace undeniably have some of the Premier League’s most breath-taking attacking talent.

Whether it be Michael Olise’s ability to be the team’s playmaking hub from wide areas, Ebere Eze’s capacity to dance through opposition midfields, or the regularity with which Wilfried Zaha twists the blood of topflight right-backs – Palace are not short of individuals capable of getting fans out of their seats.

But following last weekend’s 3-0 defeat to an Everton side that is noticeably lacking players of a similar creative calibre, Patrick Vieira’s men find themselves marooned in the middle of the league table, closer to the relegation zone than the European places.

More concerningly, Palace have some of the worst underlying attacking numbers in the division so far this season.

The South Londoners currently have the third-lowest Non-Penalty Expected Goals per 90 number in the Premier League; only four teams are averaging less open play passes that lead to a goal; no side has completed fewer passes into the opposition penalty area than Palace.

A 12th-place finish last term was widely heralded as a successful first campaign in charge for Vieira, but it now appears the former Arsenal favourite is struggling to carry any momentum into his second season. It may even be the case that divisional rivals have worked out his tactical ideas.

Palace’s xG has dropped from 1.42 per 90 across last season to 0.98 per 90 this, and they have gone from being the team in the Premier League that averages shots from the closest distance to goal to the sixth-furthest away in 2022/23.

Ironically one of their best performances of the season also came on Merseyside. Against Liverpool in the second week of the campaign – admittedly helped by a Darwin Nunez red card for a bizarre headbutt on Joachim Andersen – Palace were defensively sound and caused Jurgen Klopp’s side all manner of problems when counterattacking in the 1-1 draw.

This was most evident when Zaha raced on to an Eze pass before avoiding the looming presence of Virgil van Dijk and perfectly placing a shot beyond Alisson into the net at the Kop End to give Palace the lead.

Whilst that evening was a possible sign that Vieira is capable of imagining and executing game plans that can cause problems for some of the Premier League’s best, it may well be that a lack of flexibility is proving costly against less glamorous opponents.

The three league wins that Palace have collected this season have come against Aston Villa, Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers – teams that all currently sit below the Eagles in the table.

Whilst these may appear the sort of wins that successful seasons are built on for clubs like Palace, all have relied on moments of brilliance by their influential attacking midfielders rather than being dominant, convincing displays against some of the early-season strugglers.

Palace have the highest total of successful dribbles that lead to a shot in the league, and both Eze and Zaha are among the top five players for successful dribbles in the topflight – individuals seem to be doing their bit.

As Palace’s start can attest to, great individuals do not necessarily create a great team – although Conor Gallagher did give it a good go last season. The Chelsea loanee ranked highest among Palace midfielders for non-Penalty xG, second in terms of open play passes leading to a goal, and second behind Eze for tackles in the final third.

Whilst summer signing Cheick Doucoure initially seemed as though he would be used as a direct replacement for Gallagher, it has become clear in the opening weeks of the season that he is a very different sort of player.

Whilst Gallagher had 18 touches in the final third per game last season, Doucoure is averaging less than eight. Doucoure is also currently making half of the England international’s 0.44 tackles in the same area of the pitch from 2021/22.

The return to full fitness of Eze has meant that much of the attacking and creative responsibility from midfield now relies on the former QPR man, and the team’s collapse at Goodison Park in the absence of Doucoure is possibly evidence that he has become vital to the team in a different way to Gallagher, yet Palace still feel as though they are stagnating.

“I think performances like we had against Everton keep us grounded. We always talk about what we want to achieve as a team. We have a lot of areas of the game we need to work on and improve.

“I know the players by now and they are players committed to taking the club to the next level through their work every day.

“I believe that we can do much better in the last third. This is one area of the game we need to improve.”

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira

Saturday’s home game against an inconsistent Southampton outfit is possibly a perfect opportunity for Palace and Vieira to pick up the sort of win that proves doubters wrong. Although it would be no great surprise to see one of their eye-catching individualists bail them out once more.

Follow us on Twitter @ProstInt




Comments are closed.