Palace were the subjects of some typical Tony Pulis roughhousing, but in the face of provocation and cynicism, proved themselves to be the better side. Here are five things we learned from Palace's 2-0 win over West Brom.
Tactics take time to learn
One of the throwaway phrases that Alan Pardew became famous for was that Palace would go through a transition season -- and Palace did just that; transitioning from a side well versed in the counter-attacking tactics that worked so well to one that played so listlessly that it nosedived towards the relegation zone. It takes time, patience and an obsessive dedication to the footballing ideal of passing football for a manager to implement their system. It can't just happen with the flick of a switch or by telling players what to do -- they have to learn it, intricately.
Palace are learning it. It's not always a smooth process, and some players will be more comfortable with it than others. It became obvious during the match against West Brom who the strugglers would be. It was also clear that even players like Damien Delaney, so resolutely accustomed to playing the direct way, were at the very least trying to do the job they were asked to. There was a hesitancy to just lump the ball forward. That's a good sign.
West Brom struggled to deal with Palace's possession play and needed to change their own approach to have an impact in the second half. It was a positive performance.
The Protection Zaha Needs is All Too Obvious
Wilfried Zaha is a joy to watch. He delights with his touches, his directness and his skill. But for every positive, there is a negative -- and the negatives are suffered by the players and fans of his opponents. West Brom couldn't get near him when he had the ball, so they did all they could to stop him without winning it. Allan Nyom was arguably the worst culprit, committing numerous fouls throughout the game as Zaha tore past him. Fans of Nyom and West Brom will no doubt feel that his fouls were vindicated because of the sheer embarrassment he caused their player and club -- but that's not how football works.
Zaha has a temper, but given the repeated fouls, he showed a great deal of maturity not to react more than he did. Instead, he let his footwork and ingenuity do the talking. One step-over at a time.
Loftus-Cheek Emboldens an Already Strong Midfield
On the fleeting half of a performance witnessed against West Brom, Frank de Boer will have a midfield tactical conundrum to solve prior to the first game of the season against Huddersfield. While other areas of the pitch are clearly open to modification, Palace's midfield now looks to have a depth that will give de Boer something to think about, thanks partly to the arrival of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
The midfield recruit from Chelsea showed great strength, tenacity and a burst of pace that gave him an inch of space over England international Jake Livermore. His composure in possession also gave Palace a calm presence in the centre. He'll push his fellow midfield teammates on to better performances.
Speroni Still Has It
This hasn't been an easy couple of seasons for Julian Speroni. After his testimonial year, the Palace legend saw himself dropped from first team action, with first Pardew and then Sam Allardyce opting to play Wayne Hennessey between the sticks. Speroni had had a difficult spell when Pardew opted to drop him -- he'd made a few mistakes that had cost the club points and most would have said that another goalkeeper deserved a chance. But for it to happen in such a way -- to go from a first team hero to a substitute afterthought -- it can't have been easy. And as Palace fans have witnessed since, the grass isn't always greener on the other side.
This won't have been a decision-challenging performance for de Boer. It's likely that Palace will still try to sign another goalkeeper, and that Hennessey will continue to see first team action until that recruit arrives. But Speroni showed that he still has the ability and dexterity needed to keep a clean sheet. He made a number of excellent saves during the game -- it looked like a flashback to his prime. It was great to see.
In Luka Milivojevic, Palace have a Master of Everything
Free kicks? Check. Scoring? Check. Defending? Check. Midfielding? Check. Attacking? Check. Roughing up opponents? Check. He can do it all.
The midfield powerhouse proved against West Brom that he could be a defensive powerhouse, too. He was calm, calculated and read the game brilliantly with some great interventions while commandeering the back-line. And when Zaha was fouled just outside the penalty area, he showed his quality with a delightfully hit free-kick.
Having witnessed his teammates get roughed up by Claudio Yacob and Nyom, Miliviojevic took it upon himself to let them know of his displeasure. There was no backing down.
Players like Luka are the kind that can inspire others to greatness. They lead by example, in attitude and in performance. They become fan favourites not just because of how they play but because of how they behave.
Be like Luka.