EFL Cup exit for Crystal Palace – but game time for Eze, Batshuayi and Milivojevic outweighs negative result

BOURNEMOUTH 0
CRYSTAL PALACE 0
(Bournemouth win 11-10 on penalties)

BY SAM SMITH

Crystal Palace’s EFL Cup defeat against AFC Bournemouth was one of those occasions when very little was learned, and the benefits of awarding game time to players lacking match fitness outweighed the negative result.

A team comprised of debutants, fringe players and those not yet fully fit was hardly going to blow away the Championship side. And nor did they.

A poor, goalless 90 minutes, in which the South Londoners had just a solitary shot on target, led to a thrilling penalty shoot-out. All 22 players took at least one spot-kick. The usually reliable Luka Milivojevic had the crucial kick saved by Asmir Begovic as it ended 11-10.

Effectively, this was an extra friendly for the Eagles, just with slightly more at stake. Roy Hodgson will see the long-term benefit in being able to provide full matches to the likes of Milivojevic, Ebere Eze and Michy Batshuayi, who had interrupted pre-season campaigns.

A step towards full match readiness means they are closer to being able to take places in the regular team. Given the quality of the trio, that can only be a positive.

The winner travelling to Manchester City – who have not lost a game in this competition for two seasons – was hardly a reward. Perhaps the lacklustre performance from both sides was partially down to that.

Palace coasted through the match at a low tempo. Their passes were often misplaced and their attacks were broken down too easily. Only when Nya Kirby swivelled and struck goalwards midway through the first half did they test Begovic.

Bournemouth scarcely threatened either, although that was largely down to some excellent Palace defending. Sam Woods and Ryan Inniss were particularly impressive at centre back. Jaroslaw Jach – one of the debutants alongside Kirby – did well in an unfamiliar left-back position.

It would be far more logical to judge the Eagles on their performance in Saturday’s win against Southampton rather than this disjointed display. Against the Saints, Hodgson’s side were energetic, organised and potent in attack. That was a team with a full pre-season behind them. Aside from Jeffrey Schlupp, the 11 who faced Bournemouth did not have that benefit.

The pre-match buzz around maiden starts for new signings Eze and Batshuayi came with its caveats.

Had the pair been fully fit, they may have taken control of this game. Because there were not, they were barely involved and seemed to lack cohesion on the rare occasions they were able to counter-attack. They were both guilty of being dispossessed easily but that is nothing to worry about – it will soon click for a pair who simply need game time.

Eze has played just 55 minutes in a Palace shirt since joining from Queens Park Rangers. He impressed in the friendly win against Charlton Athletic but a groin injury kept him out until Saturday’s opening day victory against Southampton.

This was Batshuayi’s first appearance since returning to the club on loan, and he played very few minutes during Chelsea’s pre-season campaign.

Both will be eased into the team that defeated Southampton – a start in Saturday’s fixture at Manchester United will come way too soon. Jordan Ayew’s impressive performance in that opening day win means it is not imperative that Batshuayi returns to full fitness as soon as possible.

Palace improved in the final 30 minutes against Bournemouth when the Ghanaian replaced Jeffrey Schlupp. Ayew will start at Old Trafford but will have Batshuayi waiting to take his place should his form dip. Likewise Schlupp, who has struggled in his first two appearances, will soon lose his place to Eze should he not improve. A fully fit Milivojevic will slot into his usual midfield role.

That competition for places is something Hodgson has not had the luxury of in previous campaigns. Regardless of yet another defeat to lower-league opposition in the second round of the EFL Cup, having key players among a small squad move a step closer to full fitness means it was a positive night for the Palace boss.

STAR MAN
Sam Woods. Passed well out from defence and made a crucial double block in the second half to deny Sam Surridge.

BEST MOMENT
Twenty successive, immaculate penalties from each side before both goalkeepers missed.


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