Since this series started, West Ham have gone from the first post to 17th, highlighting the volatile nature of the relegation battle. That is one place below today’s focus, Crystal Palace. A 2-0 win away at Huddersfield propelled them two places in the table, following a tricky run in which they faced Spurs, Man United and Chelsea in consecutive game-weeks, and came out with zero points.
Why Will They Stay Up?
Their first eleven is generally as strong as any team surrounding them. The likes of Zaha, Sakho, Tomkins, Cabaye and Milivojevic making them a threat to any team on their day.
Roy Hodgson has completed a miraculous turnaround from the dismal start to the season which saw them go eight games without registering a goal, as well as the short-lived reign of Frank de Boer who appeared too stubborn to change a system that did not fit his resources.
Even when Palace are not winning games, they make it difficult for the opposition to win. This is a very important trait in a relegation dogfight. They seem to have a penchant for late goals as well, scoring four this season so far in injury time, including vital winners against Stoke City and Watford.
Hodgson is rebuilding his reputation after a torrid end to his England reign and has made Palace well organised. He often deploys three central midfielders in a fairly narrow system, with Zaha and Benteke leading the line.
This was slightly altered for the trip to Huddersfield on Saturday, when he went with a 4-3-3 system which has been married to Crystal Palace ever since they were promoted in 2013. This suits Zaha more, who is at his best cutting in from the left where there is more space than he gets centrally.
Despite the fruitless start to the season, Palace are fairly free-scoring these days. With their talisman Wilfried Zaha in the team, they do not struggle to create chances. Their xG places them at seventh in the table, indicating that they have enough flair and defensive solidity to stay up.
Their run in is fairly straightforward and there are many opportunities to grab points for the South Londoners in the lead up to the season ending.
Why Could They Go Down?
Injuries to key players have decimated Palace’s thin squad and could prove costly in the coming weeks. The main concern comes in the form of Zaha, who is the key to Palace’s survival chances. In the nine games without a Zaha appearance this season, Palace have barely scored a goal and secured no points.
He is their talisman and operates on a higher attacking level to anyone else in their squad. Bakary Sako’s injury leaves them threadbare for attacking options, with deadline day signing Alexander Sorloth deputising in recent weeks in his absence.
Traditionally, Sorloth is a striker, so the Eagles are having to stretch their resources to the limit. Although, the Norwegian impressed prior to his recent injury and looks set to handle the pace and physicality of England.
Other injuries to key players include Scott Dann and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who both featured heavily prior to their knocks. Loftus-Cheek is on his way back but will take time to get back to full fitness.
The fact that Palace’s squad is so limited means that every injury to a useful squad player is a massive blow.
Additionally, a relatively poor January window saw Palace miss out on a host of key signings, including the aforementioned goalkeeper. Instead, the club signed three relatively unknown players, including Sorloth. Erdal Rakip for another midfield option, and Jaroslaw Jach to give depth to the thin defensive options available to Hodgson.
They needed more than that and started February in a worse position than the start of the season. Having only one striker, the misfiring Benteke, for the majority of the season, when he’s been fit, highlights the issue.
Luckily for Crystal Palace, key men are starting to return to the fold. They may be able to scrape through for another season, barring future injuries.
So long as their top players are available, Palace should have enough in their arsenal to survive another rollercoaster season.
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