Another win for Palace and ANOTHER clean sheet. This time at West Brom getting revenge over Tony Pulis. Here are five things we learned from that win at the Hawthorns...
1 – Intelligent Wing-Play the Key
Palace fans are used to wingers who entertain – Vince Hilaire, John Salako, Wayne Routledge, Victor Moses and Yannick Bolasie to name a few. The challenge that lies ahead for the present incumbents, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend is to not simply entertain but to make meaningful contributions in all phases of play, with and without the ball.
Helping out the full-backs yet always available to the midfielders, Zaha and Townend’s goals capped off the display of intelligent wing play from them both – swapping sides, coming central and looking to deliver dangerous crosses. Palace’s disjointed team shape throughout 2016 meant the wingers’ roles were sometimes lost; Sam Allardyce’s team now looks like it can provide the backbone needed for the wingers to impact games.
2 – Sakho More Than Just a Centre-Back
Mamadou Sakho is, fundamentally, an excellent centre back and has shown as much at club and international level. While Allardyce waited on the fitness coaches’ green light to get him involved, the result has been two clean sheets and six points. And while his defensive work has been immense, he brings more than that to the team. He brings a strong, vocal presence whose use of the ball remains calm and measured.
He gives an assurance to those around him as evidenced by the improvement in James Tomkins and along with Luka Milivojević has enabled Jason Puncheon and Yohan Cabaye to be relieved of some of their defensive duties. Sakho is very much the cornerstone of Palace’s revival – let’s hope he can stay fit.
3 – Cabaye Finally Let Loose
There has been much debate around Yohan Cabaye since his arrival at Palace centred around his very role. Some thought the club had signed an attacking playmaker to sit behind the striker. Others considered him a deep-lying playmaker who starts moves. And while he has excelled in interceptions, ground coverage and pass completion statistics, his actual role remained a quandary for many.
Allardyce, however, seems to have found the role for Cabaye which fits somewhere between the ‘10’ and ‘4’ fans have argued over. He still drops deep to get the ball, but with Milivojević patrolling that area, he is free of a pure defensive focus.
He is given a licence roam somewhat while maintaining a discipline to drop back when the team is not in possession. In doing so, he has had some shackles released and, after 18 months, some synergy with Puncheon is developing.
4 – Puncheon the Unlikely Leader
When the teams emerged against Middlesboro, there was some intrigue not only in Puncheon’s selection over James McArthur, but also him being given the captaincy in the absence of Scott Dann and Damien Delaney. Big Sam followed this up with a statement on Friday which was a glowing endorsement of Punch’s character to fit the role and when Dann has entered the field of play, the captaincy has not reverted to the centre back.
While Puncheon has been a talisman for Palace’s survival on two occasions with critical goals and assists, this time his role takes on an added element to lead – time for one of our own to do it again.
My hero. My mate. Sakho. pic.twitter.com/6ZkcOlfyXI— - (@AnfieldRd96) March 4, 2017
5 – Team Organisation Can Mask Potential Weak Links
Two wins in a row and back to back clean sheets demonstrate huge strides for the team in a battle to survive. With Allardyce finally able to get his message to the players, the importance of team shape and organisation have never been so apparent. Two players who have been weak links at times over the last 15 months, Wayne Hennessey and Joel Ward, are being less exposed in the tactical shift which is now being implemented.
While the manager’s impact may not have been immediate, it is clear that in the absence of being able to sign an entire new starting XI, he has understood how the existing players can be organised so as to avoid the exploitation of previously targeted areas.
Joel Ward appears to be under instruction to be more selective in when he supports the wingers and at the same time, the midfield is quicker to block potential shots from central areas as Hennessey had been previously targeted. This may have resulted in a number of dreary games tactically, but if it manifests itself into a structured approach with a long term platform to build from, and if Palace survive, it may be worth the wait.
What did you think of that win? Comment below...