Morata 32, 65 Pedro 70
CRYSTAL PALACE 1
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT STAMFORD BRIDGE
If there was any doubt that Roy Hodgson favours conservatism over pragmatism then it will have disappeared after Crystal Palace fell to a 3-1 defeat at Chelsea.
There was some sense that the Eagles boss may lean towards an approach which saw his side press, chase and harangue Arsenal to relative success. Here at Stamford Bridge he reverted back to a conservative approach once again, and it failed once again.
Three years have passed since chairman Steve Parish said the Eagles could win the Premier League in the next 10 years. He called upon supporters to have ambition, but very little about Palace currently is ambitious. If anything, it is the opposite.
The transfer strategy has primarily focused on signing Premier League experienced players who are solid and little else. The managerial appointments are uninspiring, consistently being experienced British managers who set their teams up to sit back and spring on the counter-attack. The moment the club opted to take the ambitious route via Frank de Boer last season it ended appallingly, the Dutchman failing to get a point from his four games before he was sacked.
Some will point to that as evidence that Palace shouldn’t take risks and should be content to simply survive in the top flight by their fingernails every year. But where is the ambition in that? It would be a valid critique, but the Dutchman was attempting to overhaul a team which had conservatism at its heart, and create a possession-based, passing-heavy expansive style. In fairness, the football was painfully dull but again he was limited to a spend of £8million. It is not necessarily that it was wrong to take a more ambitious route, it’s just that the person chosen to head up such a project was incapable of doing so.
Last week against Arsenal the Eagles pressed and closed players down. It wasn’t the perfect plan, but it was successful in achieving their best performance of the season. Against Chelsea, they sat back and effectively invited their opponents on to them. It is a high-risk, low-reward tactic. That is not ambitious.
With Max Meyer, Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha they are capable of retaining possession and utilising it, but to play effectively a counter attacking style here was hopelessly wasteful. The counter argument would be that Chelsea’s attack has such quality that it is likely to tear through a pressing system, but Arsenal’s side was not exactly lacking in top class players.
The signing of Meyer was ambitious. The manner in which Hodgson has utilised his most skillful midfielder has been anything but. On just his second start in the league, he was shunted into a left-sided role. It was a waste of his talent. Yet at times, he looked threatening.
After weathering early Chelsea pressure, the visitors began to exert their own influence on the game, with Zaha and Meyer linking up well only for the German to fire over the bar when well placed on the edge of the box. Marcos Alonso and David Luiz found it difficult to contain Zaha, particularly when he was able to run at them. But as soon as they lost their attacking threat, they were pinned in their own half.
It was not surprising when the Blues took the lead with 32 minutes played. James Tomkins failed to clear a cross, and the ball fell to Pedro who put the ball back into the box. Aaron Wan-Bissaka failed to get tight enough to Alvaro Morata and he fired home from close range.
Meyer had been central to the Eagles’ attacking prowess, but he was increasingly marginalised towards the end of the first-half, as Chelsea dominated possession and passed round the visitors almost at will.
Townsend partnered Zaha up front, and he showed a rare flash of quality when he latched onto a superb James McArthur through ball, outpaced David Luiz and finished with aplomb to equalise after 53 minutes.
But two goals came in quick succession after Chelsea gained momentum in the second half. Townsend’s excellent equaliser failed to stem wave after wave of pressure. Once Alvaro Morata blasted home from the back post when he was left unmarked, it was already game over. Pedro would take just four minutes to comfortably add a third goal with even more woeful defending.
It has been apparent for some time that Palace struggle without a recognised striker on the pitch, and the lack of focal point here made that clearer. Hodgson’s tactics rely heavily on moments of individual brilliance to win games but they are yet to claim maximum points after going behind this season. Once that defence has been unlocked, the game-plan has to be altered.
Only twice in the last 12 Premier League games have the Eagles found the back of the net on more than one occasion.
The problems faced by Palace here were all too familiar, and they look no closer to solving them.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Hennessey 7, Wan-Bissaka 5, Tomkins 5, Sakho 6, Van Aanholt 6, McArthur 6 (Schlupp 80), Kouyate 4, Milivojevic 5, Meyer 5 (Ayew 71), Zaha 6, Townsend 5. Not used: Guaita, Kelly, Riedewald, Puncheon, Sorloth.