CRYSTAL PALACE 1
(Palace win 6-5 on penalties)
BY SAM SMITH
It is often difficult to draw serious conclusions from matches so early in pre-season, and this – if anything – was a steady first step as Crystal Palace began their preparations for the 2019-20 campaign.
It was late last season when Roy Hodgson described his Eagles side as “more of a dribbling team” rather than the “passing teams” he has coached throughout his 43-year managerial career. He pointed to the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Aaron Wan-Bissaka – all so adept with the ball at their feet – as a few of the reasons for his decision to shift away from his usual style.
Wan-Bissaka has moved on. The 21-year-old’s incredible progress from academy winger to excellent Premier League right-back was rewarded with a £55million move to Manchester United last month. Zaha is at the Africa Cup of Nations and is being strongly linked with a move to Arsenal, so this pre-season friendly with Luzern at the annual Uhrencup in Switzerland was the first glimpse of a possible Palace future without both crown jewels.
It was a performance that mirrored Hodgson’s description of his teams of the past – quick passing out from defence and through the thirds, with Max Meyer central in advancing the ball forwards.
Meyer was a sporadic feature in Hodgson’s line-ups last season -starting 15 Premier League games -but would be a contender to be Palace’s most naturally-gifted asset should Zaha move on.
Against Luzern, the German was the Eagles’ best player. The 23-year-old continually moved centrally from the left wing to receive the ball and broke forwards, either dribbling dangerously towards the penalty area or passing with penetration to bring his team-mates into the game.
And it was Meyer who was key to Palace opening the scoring inside 90 seconds. The former Schalke man was the recipient of a well-worked passing move – controlling the ball on the left of Luzern’s penalty area, a quick step-over helping take him past his marker before he elegantly dinked the ball on to the head of Christian Benteke, who nodded home.
The lead would last less than four minutes. Pascal Schurpf stormed into the penalty area unmarked to stab a cross beyond Wayne Hennessey. The Swiss Super League outfit – who had already played four pre-season fixtures as they prepare for a Europa League second round qualifier later this month.
Palace produced greater quality and created the better chances, while Luzern were quicker, fitter and passed more crisply.
A glut of substitutions affected the tempo with chances limited. Substitute Alexander Sorloth – fresh from a confidence-boosting loan at KAA Gent towards the end of last season – had the best opportunity to win the game in normal time but fired straight at the goalkeeper after being teed up by Benteke.
Jeffrey Schlupp fired a good chance over the crossbar and Hennessey made two good saves.
The Wales goalkeeper would go on to win the game for Palace in the penalty shoot-out. James McArthur, Joel Ward, Martin Kelly, Sorloth and Schlupp netted the Eagles’ first five penalties, before Nya Kirby converted and Hennessey saved in sudden death.
Kirby, 19, was one of six development squad players to feature.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Hennessey, Van Aanholt (Mitchell 65), Riedewald (Flanagan 72), Dann (Ward 46), Woods, Meyer (Kirby 65, Milivojevic (McArthur 46), Dreher (Kelly 46), Townsend (Schlupp 46), Wickham (Sorloth 46), Benteke (Daly 65).
PICTURE BY NEIL EVERITT