Crystal Palace came up against a stern test at Wembley against Tottenham, losing by a single goal. Here's Naveed Khan with five lessons we learned.
1 – Leaders Need to Emerge
For much of Sunday’s game, Palace were a match for Spurs. Chances came and went while Spurs’ midfield was kept at bay and Harry Kane a shadow of the player he has been for much of this season thanks largely to Scott Dann and Mamadou Sakho. However, while Palace may have been unlucky to lose, a lack of leadership on the pitch is heightened in its appearance when the team went a goal down. Dann is a quiet captain and while Sakho attempts to rally the troops, there is little further up the pitch to do the same.
Our best times as a club have come with a team full of leaders. Nigel Martyn, Andy Thorn, Eric Young, Andy Gray and Ian Wright – all leaders while Geoff Thomas has the armband. Julian Speroni, Damien Delaney, Joe Ledley, Glenn Murray, Marouane Chamakh and Jason Puncheon all showed leadership while Mile Jedinak was in charge. Now the team needs Luka Milivojević, Yohan Cabaye and others to emerge to join Sakho in assisting Dann. With winnable games upcoming, now is the time.
2 – Schlupp Cannot Afford to be Victim of Versatility
Jeffrey Schlupp was signed by Sam Allardyce for his versatility during an uncertain January Transfer Window. Since then, he has been used at left back, left wing, as part of a midfield and even at centre-back. There is a case to be made for Schlupp being the team’s best left back; and while Frank De Boer did not know Schlupp could play elsewhere, Allardyce and Roy Hodgson have taken advantage of his utility.
He needs to nail down a position in the side and excel in it. The risk otherwise is that Palace do not get to see the best of him. Against Spurs, he was beginning to look lost with the ball and positionally; he cannot afford to be a victim of his versatility.
3 – Townsend and Loftus-Cheek Need Cutting Edge
Wilfried Zaha has been the key reason for Palace’s points to date, the talisman and the player the team turns to for a moment of brilliance. However, for all of Andros Townsend’s endeavour and Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s ability on the ball, neither has taken the chance to win Palace points where Zaha has either been absent or not on his game.
If Palace are to climb off the bottom of the league, the team’s other key winger and attacking central midfielder need to have a greater impact and end product. At Wembley, while Wilf missed Palace’s best chance, Townsend and Loftus-Cheek did not step up to spark the team. Neither player can hide especially, particularly while the team lacks a striker.
4 –Team Structure Growing
From the last International Break to this, it is clear that the team has an identity and a structure to it and that players are buying in to what Hodgson and his staff are trying to implement. Striker-less still, Palace have four points from four games and that is, as Roy himself put it, “scant reward” for the performances which has been far removed from the spiritless shambles De Boer had left behind.
Joel Ward is playing with the diligence not seen since Tony Pulis departed, Julian Speroni is ensuring the defenders in front of him are alert and not panicked. There are fewer gaps between the defence and midfield – the club not signing a striker in the summer was bordering on negligent and while the points return demonstrates that, being just one player short of a team capable of getting out of trouble is at this stage a positive sign.
5 – Points Needed to Make January Transfer Activity Worthwhile
While there are positives to take in the Spurs defeat, as there was from the Newcastle loss, Palace need points, as Roy has said. It is clear the club needs a striker and goalkeeper at the very least from the January window while there have also been links to central midfielders and wingers.
However, transfer activity will be meaningless and understandably limited if the team is not looking like it is in a position by the time that the window opens that it can get out of the bottom three. There is a stretch of games now where Palace can pick up points – these games must yield points to allow Roy’s squad to be strengthened in January and push on in the second half of the season.