BY SAM SMITH
A disastrous first-half performance by Crystal Palace saw them beaten 2-0 at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Eagles struggled to nullify the threat of the hosts’ wing-backs and, ultimately, that was the cause of their downfall at Molineux.
Former Eagles transfer target Rayan Ait-Nouri struck a volley across goal and into the corner of Vicente Guaita’s net to open the scoring on his full debut.
Leander Dendoncker hit the crossbar from range before Wolves added a second. Daniel Podence met Nelson Semedo’s shot to side-foot home.
Nathaniel Clyne could have done slightly better to close down both scorers, but there were far more glaring errors and inadequacies in stopping the build-up play. Wolves found it too easy to play around the South Londoners – who played in their usual rigid and flat 4-4-2 – and nobody in a Palace shirt seemed sure who was meant to pick up either Ait-Nouri or Semedo.
Some will argue that Wolves played well and expertly executed their game plan. That may be true, but their wing-backs being a threatening creative outlet in the 3-4-3 system is hardly the Premier League’s biggest surprise.
Roy Hodgson prefers to prepare for a game by focusing on how Palace will win, rather than on how they might prevent the other team from winning. But such a glaring threat in the opposition should not go unrecognised.
Palace thought they had a penalty late in the first half when Patrick van Aanholt was adjudged to have been fouled by Willy Boly, but VAR ruled that the Dutchman had strayed just offside. Van Aanholt otherwise seemed slightly unsure on his first start since July – and the crosses for both goals came from his side.
Michy Batshuayi also had a goal disallowed for offside for the third time in as many games. A 2-2 half-time scoreline would have seriously flattered Palace – who also required Guaita to tip away Pedro Neto’s cross-cum-shot that was heading for the top corner.
Roy Hodgson’s side often seemed devoid of ideas. In games against sides so well drilled, the usual plan to have Wilfried Zaha central to most attacks are nullified.
Wolves coped too easily with the Ivorian, whose frustration was taken out on Ait-Nouri midway through the second half – earning him a yellow card.
In a sense, Eberechi Eze was introduced to the game 65 minutes too late. He would have offered a second option to players in possession and Wolves would have needed to occupy both him and Zaha, rather than them purely focusing on stopping the 27-year-old.
Each time the former Queens Park Rangers man received the ball, he looked to pass forwards – in stark contrast to the very conservative passes by the rest of the Eagles midfield.
Palace might argue that VAR played a part in their defeat – but the technology made no glaring error. Not even when Zaha went down under challenge by Ait-Nouri did Martin Atkinson make am clear enough error in not awarding a penalty for his decision to be overturned.
When Milivojevic thundered into a challenge high on Joao Moutinho’s ankle, VAR correctly upgraded the decision to a red card.
The defeat leaves the Eagles ninth – still a respectable position after seven games. But there will need to be huge improvements next weekend against a Leeds United side similar to Wolves.
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