Abraham 52 Pulisic 79
CRYSTAL PALACE 0
BY ROB SUTHERLAND AT STAMFORD BRIDGECrystal Palace have been fortunate in the early months of the season not to suffer significant injuries to the squad – but Saturday’s defeat in west London highlighted the risk that such a lack of depth in key areas can bring.
Before the weekend the Eagles’ absences have been in areas where they have sufficient.
But not now.
Right-back Joel Ward went off with a groin injury late in the first half while Wilfried Zaha suffered an injury to his foot late in the game following a tackle from Kurt Zouma.
It raises the prospect of Palace having to survive at least a portion of the season without their only senior right-back and also their best player.
Ward’s injury will be galling to Palace’s management given the clear need for cover during the summer months.
Following the sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United, it was obvious that a further right-back recruit would be needed. Despite being linked with players up until the summer transfer window closed, no such signing was forthcoming.
Martin Kelly, so often a defensive cover, is certainly capable of taking up Ward’s mantle, and there is no doubt that he’ll do so professionally and resolutely.
That trustworthy nature is both a positive for the club but a negative for the player.
In the early stages of the season, Kelly proved that he is most capable as a centre-back and that he could make the case to be Gary Cahill’s partner. The likelihood of Ward being sidelined means that his case for a role at the heart of Palace’s defence, rather than on the flank, is greatly impacted.
In terms of Zaha, Palace don’t have the luxury of having another player capable of taking up the role he plays in the side.
And with a distinct lack of attacking options – as well as what seems to be manager Roy Hodgson’s mistrust of Max Meyer and Victor Camarasa as offensive starting options – the possibility of losing the Ivory Coast international for any period of time would be damaging to Palace’s prospects.
While the club’s greatest attacking threat hasn’t been as potent this season, his omission from the side would be noticed – especially as he’s very often the only out-ball option when the team is under significant pressure.
Zaha doesn’t get credit for taking pressure off his team-mates, but his ability on the ball is one of his major attributes.
That lack of depth, so often maligned, is also at its most stark when it doesn’t give Hodgson an opportunity to rest players.
Ward has played every league game this season, one of a number to have done so in the Palace team.
It would have been unrealistic for Palace to expect to play half a season without suffering at least one injury to an exposed area of the team when you consider a lot of players are not getting rotated or rested.
Against Chelsea, the Ward injury proved to have little impact on the overall performance.
With Palace under constant pressure throughout the match, Kelly rarely ventured upfield and that dependable nature meant that he didn’t put a foot wrong when he was called into action.
Zaha was criticised for his performance against Chelsea after a fiery first half, but once he settled down in the second period he became more of a threat and made Reece James work to keep him at bay.
The impact of Zaha’s injury could not be measured in real terms because Chelsea were so dominant. While Zaha was clearly suffering from the impact on his foot, the Eagles had already made all their substitutions.
Chelsea won the game with goals from Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic in a performance that saw Hodgson’s side on the defensive for the majority of the match.
Hodgson has to consider his options prior to the visit of Premier League leaders Liverpool. He’ll hope that Ward and Zaha will be available with a fornight to recover.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Guaita 7, Van Aanholt 6, Tomkins 5, Cahill 6, Ward 6 (Kelly 44, 6), Kouyate 7 (McCarthy 82), Milivojevic 5, McArthur 5 (Schlupp 70, 5), Zaha 6, Townsend 5, Ayew 5. Not used: Hennessey, Dann, Riedewald, Benteke.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD