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Crystal Palace pay price for lack of attacking intent against Chelsea – with Selhurst Park volume lowered



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Having beaten Manchester City a week ago, the minimum Crystal Palace fans would have expected would be to at least show some attacking intent against a Chelsea side that is inferior to the reigning Premier League champions.


But there was none of that from Roy Hodgson’s team. Instead, they sat back, allowed Chelsea to keep possession, barely advanced into the Blues’ final third, and ultimately lost through a solitary, easily-worked goal. If this performance was a foreshadow for how their 2019 might pan out, the Eagles won’t show any progress next year.


The west Londoners barely had to break stride to earn this victory, yet Palace remained rooted to their defensive third for most of the game. Had Chelsea increased the tempo slightly, had they tried to move the Eagles’ defensive block around the pitch with more purpose, they could easily have battered their hosts.


Hodgson’s defence for his side’s performance was to claim that they would have been opened up and beaten by four or five goals had they tried to regularly attack their opponents. The counter-argument to this theory is that they were lucky not to lose by that many even whilst adopting this ultra-defensive style.

Crystal Palace v Chelsea, Premier League, Selhurst Park, 30 December 2018.
Photograph by Keith Gillard

It is often a cliche for a visiting team to Selhurst Park that they must silence the home crowd as soon into a match as possible, but Palace did this job for their visitors. So lacklustre and negative was this performance that Selhurst became quieter as the first half progressed.


Perhaps a genuine defence for this monotonous display was that this was Palace’s third game during a busy Christmas period, spread across seven days. Just two changes have been made to the starting line-ups across the trio of fixtures and the tiredness was obvious. There are five players who have started all 20 league fixtures this season and it would be six had Wilfried Zaha not received a one-match ban last month.


The team and tactics have been very predictable for a while and only a select core of the squad are seemingly fully trusted by Hodgson. Some onlookers may see it as a good thing that the former England boss has been able to pick a regular side for a large portion of the season, but it is hardly something to celebrate when those regulars have accumulated less than a point per game and sit 14th, six points below rivals Brighton who are a place above – below pre-season expectations.

Crystal Palace v Chelsea, Premier League, Selhurst Park, 30 December 2018.
Photograph by Keith Gillard

It is why the January transfer window could not come soon enough for the Eagles. They are still using the makeshift front pair of Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend which continues to be dysfunctional whilst Christian Benteke remains absent with a knee injury. The team is full of square pegs in round holes.


A natural goalscorer is vital and it seems Liverpool forward Dominic Solanke is the man targeted by the Eagles to improve their firepower.


Chairman Steve Parish had hinted before this game that the former Chelsea and England U21 striker was a target, leading to Hodgson admitting it was “no secret” that the signing of Solanke was a possibility.


Palace may get that deal done early, and it would be an improvement on last year’s January transfer window when they left deals until very late.

Crystal Palace v Chelsea, Premier League, Selhurst Park, 30 December 2018.
Photograph by Keith Gillard

Defensively, Palace are sound. Their only lapse in this game was to allow David Luiz’s long pass to find the untracked N’Golo Kante, allowing the Frenchman to swivel and squeeze a shot under Vicente Guaita. The Blues scarcely got in behind the sturdy back four, instead they were limited to efforts from long distance.


Perhaps the addition of a wide player could give Townsend and Zaha some much needed competition, although there is scarcely much that can be done with Palace’s limited budget.

Crystal Palace v Chelsea, Premier League, Selhurst Park, 30 December 2018.
Photograph by Keith Gillard

With Benteke likely to come back from injury next month, Hodgson’s options up front will improve. Hopefully this negative performance was a one-off, borne out of having to grind out a result with a lack of forwards at Hodgson’s disposal.


But with this being their sixth successive season back in the top flight, and with the likes of Zaha, Townsend, Benteke and Max Meyer in their ranks, Palace fans will expect more positive performances in the new year.


Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Guaita 7, Wan-Bissaka 6, Tomkins 6, Sakho 5, Van Aanholt 6, McArthur 6, Kouyate 5 (Meyer 78), Milivojevic 5, Schlupp 5 (Wickham 69 5), Townsend 5, Zaha 5. Not used: Hennessey, Ward, Dann, Ayew, Puncheon.

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