Son 10, 23 Van Aanholt (og) 21 Lamela 42
CRYSTAL PALACE 0
BY SAM SMITH
Crystal Palace have gained a reputation for their positive away record against the Premier League’s top six in recent seasons, and so this poor performance was the opposite of what many would have expected from them.
The Eagles were the last visiting team to win league games at Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. They have twice beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 2015.
The latest of those victories over one of the country’s top clubs was at Old Trafford. The 2-1 victory last month was an encapsulation of the typical performance by Palace away to the league’s elite sides.
They were compact in a deep and narrow 4-5-1 formation like the one deployed against Spurs, but against Manchester United they were aggressive defensively and limited the Red Devils to very few chances. On the rare occasion they advanced forward, they were ruthless.
If there was a spectrum of Palace’s away performances then at one end you would have that excellent, regimented display and this lacklustre one against Tottenham at the other. If to be 4-0 down before half-time is unforgivable, the way Palace conceded each of the four goals was deplorable.
The centre-back pairing of Gary Cahill and Mamadou Sakho is perhaps the club’s best on paper, but this was the first time they had started a match together and it showed after just 10 minutes.
Sakho misjudged a lofted Toby Alderweireld pass and Heung-min Son exposed the vacated space, dropping his shoulder to evade Cahill before rolling the ball into the corner via the post.
This was Sakho’s first competitive start since February 23. He appeared to have been forced into the line-up too soon as a result of Martin Kelly’s injury, suffered against Aston Villa before the international break, and the Frenchman did not seem completely match fit.
Patrick van Aanholt failed to make an interception and then deflected the ball into his own net five seconds later. Then Joel Ward left Son unmarked at the back post to volley in a third – all within the space of two minutes.
The situation became even worse when a sweeping yet unchallenged counter-attack culminated in Erik Lamela squeezing home a Harry Kane cross.
This was against a Tottenham side yet to truly establish home comforts in their new stadium.
Spurs is one of only two away fixtures Palace have faced at least twice since promotion in 2013 and not won, but there should have been a bit more belief that they could cause an upset.
When Palace win points this season, they will come when they limit their opposition to very few chances. They had the best defensive record in the league before this game, albeit after only four matches, and the seven points collected before travelling to north London had been amassed while conceding only twice.
Even at 2-0 there was a sense that this game was over.
Roy Hodgson’s side do not have the attacking capacity to outscore their opponents in high-scoring games and there exist very few examples of them doing so.
Even when they have, such as in the 3-2 win at Manchester City in December, they have shown much better quality in possession. Their passes were so sloppy and they gave up possession with such striking regularity against Tottenham that it almost seemed like an instruction to play the game without the ball.
But when the opposition are in possession, you must apply pressure and your shape must remain intact. There were too many times on Saturday when Palace did neither of those things and they were emphatically punished.
The bigger picture displays this result as an anomaly. Palace are prone to similar results only a few times per season.
In the last campaign there was a 3-1 defeat against Brighton and Hove Albion when the Eagles were 3-0 down before half-time.
In 2017-18, Arsenal were four goals ahead inside the opening 20 minutes at the Emirates Stadium.
The year before, Sunderland powered 4-0 up at Selhurst Park after 45 minutes.
When you are a club of Palace’s stature, the odd inconsistency is normal. Perhaps it is a positive that the Eagles have got that performance out the way early in the campaign.
The way Hodgson’s side play, victories in these games against far superior opposition will still happen.
However, they are not the results that will shape a season. It is those in games such as the upcoming two – both at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City – which will.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Guaita 5, Ward 4, Cahill 5, Sakho 4, Van Aanholt 3, Zaha 5, Kouyate 5 (McCarthy 76), Milivojevic 4, Schlupp 4, Townsend 4 (Camarasa 85), Ayew 4 (Benteke 71). Not used: Hennessey, Tomkins, Riedewald, Meyer.