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11 Take Ons, 2 Chances Created – This 24-year Old Could Play A Vital Role In Crystal Palace’s Fight Back

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Wilfried Zaha
Wilfried Zaha

Why Wilfried Zaha Would Be Crucial In Crystal Palace’s Relegation Fight

Seven games, seven defeats and 17 goals conceded- Crystal Palace were clearly in a mess. A brief Dutch summer under Frank de Boer paved way for Roy Hodgson, but results looked too stubborn to change. And with a game against Chelsea at Selhurst Park, everything suggested that Palace were going to receive a fearsome thrashing and the fans should be in for yet another long, dreary afternoon.

But just when the club, as well as its fans, needed a lift, returned their crowd-favourite from injury, Wilfried Zaha. Zaha’s return was a relief, given the winger had missed so many games since day one defeat at the hands of newbie Huddersfield Town, but what elated Selhurst Park was his influence against the champions Chelsea.

In the first seven games, Palace had looked abysmal, uninspiring and flat. Zaha’s return made Palace look vibrant, powerful and dangerous since the blow of whistle. The contrast was so ridiculous, lacked logic and spoke volumes in Palace’s resounding 2-1 victory against Antonio Conte’s Blues, and one rational explanation of the win was the return of the Ivorian.

As the team had faltered to pick a single point across the season’s opening months, Palace fans were praying for Zaha to get back to fitness. One could understand their impatience and anguish. Zaha’s return showed why they were crying for his services badly as the zippy winger made a huge difference on Saturday. While the news of Zaha attaining full fitness presented a big boost, his name on the team-sheet felt like a new signing making his full debut.

Hodgson, a local man, out-thought one of the clever tacticians in the Premier League and set his team perfectly to defy the odds on Saturday. Helpless with no recognised strikers available, an injury to first-team goalkeeper and a lack of enthusiasm surrounding the club, Hodgson did the unthinkable as Palace ended their 731-minute goal drought.

And the returning Zaha was at the heart of victory, injecting pace and guile since the first minute. His presence seemed to revitalise not only the crowd but his teammates as well. The defence looked vigilant, midfielders emerged out of their shadows and the two man attack which included him and Andros Townsend kept menacing Chelsea’s defence at will. In a nutshell, Palace looked sharper and quicker than ever before.

It took Selhurst Park to erupt early on when a Townsend cross crept past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois via a combination of Yohan Cabaye and Cesar Azpilicueta. However, Palace dominance only lasted seven minutes before a corner by Cesc Fabregas found Tiemoue Bakayoko, who found himself unmarked to head home his first Premier League goal and level the scores.

Conte was jubilant but Chelsea’s goal didn’t stop the hosts and driven by Zaha, the team moved forward. And for all his good work, the talismanic winger scored the winner on the stroke of half-time. An inevitable second-half barrage arrived from Chelsea; a few nervy moments in the second half, not least when Sakho’s insane backheel almost gifted Fabregas an equaliser in added time but the relief in the end was massive and sweet, unlike during the previous seven grueling games.

Speaking about Zaha, he provided Palace with fresh attacking impetus and along with the industrious Townsend, he looked a thorn for Chelsea’s defence throughout the game. Zaha and Townsend- used as auxiliary forwards- were given the task to occupy Chelsea’s three central defenders, which they obliged.

Full of ambition, creativity and adventure, Zaha showed what Palace were missing. The former United attacker used his body strength, power and pace to devastating effect against the champions. What surprised many was the kind of performance he dished out after being sidelined for two months with a knee injury. He completed 11 take-ons and created 2 chances as well.

It is very clear that having Zaha back made a massive difference to Crystal Palace. He was the match winner and was a threat all afternoon. His energy and vigour transformed the Londoners but it would be foolish for Hodgson to get carried away.

Palace wanted motivation and they got it from Zaha. The victory over Chelsea was not just three points but finally their start to the campaign. Next up is Newcastle; Hodgson will hope the celebrations after Saturday’s win over Conte should prolong and be meaningful at St. James Park.

Stats Courtesy: Squawka