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Match Previews

Ask The Expert: Crystal Palace

26 September 2019

Norwich City travel to Selhurst Park this weekend looking to get back to winning ways in the Premier League against Crystal Palace.

Ahead of the game, spoke to The Athletic’s Crystal Palace FC writer Matt Woosnam to get his thoughts on the Eagles’ season so far, Roy Hodgson’s tenure at the helm, Jordan Ayew, and Wilfried Zaha.

We also got his view on the Canaries, as well as a score prediction for this weekend. From the outside looking in, it seems like it’s been a relatively respectable start to the season for Palace with two wins, two draws and two defeats. How would you sum it up so far?

MW: I think that’s right, it’s an okay start to the season. The heavy defeat from Spurs was a bit of an outlier, it didn’t really reflect how Palace have been this season. There haven’t been too many games so far, but on the basis of what we have seen, the home form has slightly picked up.

They were slightly fortunate to beat Aston Villa, but they were unfortunate not to beat Wolves. It’s been a good start to the season for Palace and is probably about on par with where they would expect to be. Roy Hodgson has been in charge at Palace for just over two years now and was recently nominated for the August Manager of the Month award. What are the fans thoughts on him at the moment?

MW: Most Palace fans are really happy with him and how things have gone under him. The club needs that stability, that manager who knows and has that affiliation with the club. On the pitch, knowing the club can have a positive impact.

He’s done really well and most Palace fans would accept that. Maybe the football isn’t as entertaining as people might like, and maybe they’re not scoring enough goals, but at the same time, the defence is generally solid.

The one criticism you might make is that they’re a little too predictable at times, but on the balance of things it seems to be working okay so far. Are there any players in the squad who you think don’t get the credit they deserve?

MW: Last season, I would have said Jordan Ayew. His work-rate, effort, and what he does to bring other players into the game wasn’t noticed as much as maybe it should have been. He did only score one goal, but he wasn’t really getting opportunities to score because Palace don’t create too many chances.

Jordan Ayew Cropped.jpg

This season, he’s started really well and his goal against Manchester United would have helped him. In some ways, he’s improved from last season, but I think last season he was doing a lot of the things that he’s doing now, but now people are noticing it more.

There are perhaps some people who might expect more from him and that would be unfair. It’s not like he’s missing loads of chances. Against Everton on the opening day, he probably should’ve scored, but other than that there hasn’t been anything you can level at him as criticism. Wilfried Zaha hasn’t got any goals or assists yet this season. Why do you think he hasn’t quite got going?

MW: There are a lot of reasons. He had his first major tournament with Ivory Coast in the summer, playing at the African Cup of Nations. That’s quite a big thing and I imagine that affected him physically and mentally.

Also, the rumoured attempted split from his agent. In football, you need to be completely focused on your game and any external factors that can affect that can and do have an impact. In that respect, the well-publicised transfer request and desire to leave the club in the summer didn’t help, considering he saw Aaron Wan-Bissaka leave as well. He probably felt frustrated with the situation.

I think those factors off the pitch are having an impact on him, but I’m not sure that Palace are playing to his strengths. He was very isolated away to Sheffield United, and at home they don’t create too many chances or play in a style that suits him.

He needs to be able to run at defenders and whilst Palace do counter, they haven’t done that too much this season. It’s a mixture of factors. He’ll probably be disappointed in his own performances, but the tactics and off-field problems have contributed.

Wilfried Zaha.jpg With all of those factors in mind, what do you think should be the expectations for Palace this season? They’ve shown admirable consistency to finish between 10th and 15th every season since being promoted back to the Premier League in 2013. Can they break into the top ten this time?

MW: First and foremost, even though they’ve been in the league for six years, the objective is safety. Anything above that will be good. I’m sure Palace will be looking to finish in the top half of the bottom half, but it has to be about securing safety for yet another year.

You want to have greater expectations than that, and I think there probably are, but realistically they need a striker who can finish and take chances. That’s holding Palace back. Perhaps it might be better to have slightly more attacking full backs who can also defend.

Wan-Bissaka leaving was difficult for Palace. Joel Ward has stepped up and done really well, but it’s not quite the same. Have you seen much of the Canaries in recent years?

MW: Yeah, and I think the way the club is setup is great. That blend of youth and experience is really good, and there’s clearly a long-term plan there. It’s a club that should do well, and even if they don’t stay up, which I think they should and will, there’s a long-term plan that will help them in the future to secure a place in the Premier League and kick on, finishing higher up eventually.

The win against Manchester City was unexpected but really good. The attacking football is quite free-flowing and entertaining to watch. That doesn’t always go hand in hand with positive results, but I think if you’ve got the right manager, and Daniel Farke has done a good job, then that can work.

They’ll be a test for the teams around the lower half of the table, and at times they’ll go toe to toe with some of the teams that they’re not expected to compete with. You never know what you’re going to get in the Premier League, but we’re going to ask for your score prediction anyway!

MW: It’s a difficult one. Palace aren’t creating much at home, so I think I’ll go for another 1-1 draw.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattWoosie.

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