Wilfried Zaha takes apart Reading – and Crystal Palace ace doesn’t even go through the gears to do it

READING 0

CRYSTAL PALACE 4

Sorloth 33 Zaha 48 64 Tomkins 68

BY SAM SMITH AT MADEJSKI STADIUM

“He’s a good player, isn’t he?,” remarked one Reading journalist at the sight of Wilfried Zaha majestically waltzing around Royals midfielder John Swift and driving towards the penalty area at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

This quote stood out among the plethora of comments made about the Crystal Palace forward during his side’s 4-0 win in Berkshire, for it seems the world has rinsed every superlative to describe the Eagles’ prized Ivorian and has simply reverted to the word ‘good’.

This may just have been a pre-season friendly, but Zaha was so sensational that it feels slightly disrespectful to claim this was a Palace victory rather than solely a Zaha one.

The style of his two goals were so far removed from each other but still so aesthetically pleasing, and – in addition to his assist for Alexander Sorloth – his contribution to three of Palace’s four goals made a mockery of the lazy and wayward critiques about his end product.

But what was so spectacular about this dazzling individual showing was that the 25-year-old was scarcely even trying. He coasted through the game like a car in first gear and akin to when year 11 take on year seven in the school playground’s most one-sided football match. The former Manchester United man barely seemed to break stride throughout the 90 minutes but still remained so superior to the 21 other players on the pitch.

The description of Zaha as being merely ‘good’ can be forgiven for being such a sizeable understatement given it was coined when the Eagles academy graduate was yet to properly begin his assault on the Championship outfit. The Ivory Coast international was just warming up when a quick piece of skill provided some space and he played through Sorloth, whose subsequent strike was ruled out for offside.

And it was the same combination that eventually opened the scoring for Roy Hodgson’s side on 33 minutes. Zaha whizzed past Reading full-back Andy Yiadom and cut the ball back for the big Norwegian striker to thump into the top corner from close range.

Zaha needed until the second half to properly assert his total authority on a game that, in truth, really needed a player of his quality to be at their very best. There can be no better summary of this match – or Zaha’s performance – than that there was actually not a monumental difference between either side except that one had a £70 million-rated reported target of some of the globe’s biggest clubs.

As Zaha swept home Patrick van Aanholt’s cross three minutes after the interval, it became clear that this was entirely a one-man show. The Eagles will happily sacrifice being labelled a one-man team this season if it means they keep hold of their prized asset. They have not won a competitive game without him since September 2016.

The next goal was evidence of Zaha’s improvement over the last 18 months. The forward exchanged passes with James McArthur on the edge of Reading’s penalty area and wonderfully curled the ball into the bottom corner from outside the box. It was a strike not many would associate with Zaha, a player often unwilling to shoot from outside the box, but it was proof of the confidence flowing through the forward.

His celebration, sprinting towards the 1,500-strong Palace contingent in the away end, arms aloft and passionately punching the air while 3-0 up against a Championship side in a pre-season friendly, was barely one of a player desperate to leave for pastures new.

And with that, Zaha was finished for the day.

Andros Townsend dinked the ball into James Tomkins to nod home from close range. Palace are not just unbeaten during pre-season, but since March 10.

here are still several key areas where improvements can be made. A gaping hole – in the shape of Yohan Cabaye – still remains in midfield and none of the current crop have the ability to keep possession against top opposition as well as the departed Frenchman.

A replacement for last season’s loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek is important if Hodgson plans on adopting the same style that saw his side cruise to safety in the final few months of the campaign.

While signings are a necessity, the overriding importance is to keep Zaha – Palace’s fortunes once again rely on him..

Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt, Schlupp, Riedewald (Milivojevic 45), McArthur (Williams 82), Townsend (Puncheon 82), Sorloth (Wickham 72), Zaha. Not used: Guaita, Ward, Souare, Kelly, Kaikai


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