Next six matches look huge in deciding how Crystal Palace’s season will shake down

Brooks 5 Stanislas 87
Van Aanholt 55

If you were to rewind a year, you would find a hapless Crystal Palace rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table without a goal – let alone a point – from their opening seven games.

There was a reminder of an unwanted Premier League first – no goals or points from a club’s opening four games -with Frank de Boer, the instigator of that dreadful run, in the Sky Sports studio on Monday night as a pundit.

As if he was somehow able to offer insight into the Eagles’ campaign this season when this time last year he was making Premier League history for the worst start ever.

Seven points from seven games is a perfectly adequate return under Roy Hodgson, but it should be higher.

Bournemouth’s Simon Francis (centre) confronts Crystal Palace players during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth.

It is too early to definitively reach any conclusions regarding how the standings will look come May, but what is apparent is that there are at least three teams who look significantly worse than Palace.

At Bournemouth the Eagles succumbed to defeat courtesy of two moments of absurdity and ill-discipline not befitting of any professional footballer.

Firstly Alexander Sorloth saw fit to clumsily foul a Cherries player whose back was to goal in what was not a promising position. Not to be outdone, Mamadou Sakho felt inclined to extend his arm in the penalty area into the face Jefferson Lerma, from the resulting free-kick.
The Eagles defence had been warned moments before by referee Mike Dean to keep hands down and tussling to a minimum. The official pointed to the penalty spot after Sakho’s indiscretion and Junior Stanislas fired past Wayne Hennessey who had made two excellent saves to keep it at 1-1.

The problem with Sakho is that in every game he is likely to make a mistake which has the potential to be significant. Equally, his ability on the ball and solid defensive partnership with James Tomkins partly balances out this risk.

Regardless, even if Hodgson were tempted to break up a central defensive combination which has lost just twice in 19 games, there is nobody knocking down his door to play. Martin Kelly is a suitable back-up option but is not likely to displace either man.

Realistically few people will complain about the Eagles’ standing at this juncture, but the next six games will give an indication of how this season looks to be panning out.

Crystal Palace’s James Tomkins (right) is fouled by Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson (back)
Newly-promoted Wolves have shown they are a force to be reckoned with and have serious attacking threat, while trips to Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United look daunting enough, without contemplating home clashes with Arsenal and Tottenham.

There is a sense that Hodgson has settled on 4-3-3 as the formation which is best suited to his personnel, but without a true centre-forward that is wasted.

Jordan Ayew will run until his lungs burst but to expect him to play the role of a target man is foolish. If the Eagles boss wants to persist with his current shape then Max Meyer must be among the starting 11.

The German’s performance at Bournemouth was, aside from Wayne Hennessey’s saves, the only positive. He offers creativity and movement in midfield.

Without Wilfried Zaha or when he is ineffectual, Palace lack genuine quality on the ball, and movement off it. Added to that they are still yet to rectify their lackadaisical passing in the final third, and make too many simple errors.

They seem to be risk averse, particularly lacking confidence. Shaping to shoot only to take an extra touch and find themselves closed down, not taking on the difficult passes, failing to present themselves for the ball in more congested areas, it all points to playing too conservatively.

Palace are yet to put in a really good performance this campaign. They rode the crest of the wave towards the end of last season, but now they seem more likely to simply tread water.

The positive atmosphere has also mostly disappeared, groaning and moaning evident from the supporters where once they would be roaring their team on.

It is not all gloomy. The Eagles have looked like they can still come back when trailing and not been on the end of the hammering.

But performances must improve, particularly with such a challenging set of fixtures awaiting them.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Hennessey 8, Wan-Bissaka 7, Tomkins 6, Sakho 6, Van Aanholt 6, Meyer 8 (Kouyate 84), Milivojevic 4, McArthur 5 (Schlupp 77), Townsend 4, Ayew 7 (Sorloth 82), Zaha 5. Not used: Guaita, Ward, Kelly, Puncheon.

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