BY ADAM SELLS
Meyer must grasp the nettle when opportunity knocks
Max Meyer has divided the fans since his arrival and there has been much space in this column allotted to the talented German. After his much heralded arrival in the summer, the midfielder has struggled to fight his way into Roy Hodgson’s team on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of many Palace followers.
After an impressive cameo in the defeat to Manchester United, the diminutive midfielder earned a place in the starting 11 at Turf Moor last weekend.
Despite an impressive victory over Burnley, Meyer struggled to make any real impact in the game and was substituted midway through the second half. He has been typically used as a substitute up until now, usually to unlock the door when Palace have been behind, and if he is to become a regular name on the team-sheet, Meyer must deliver when the opportunity presents itself. It can be argued, of course, that a big, powerful Burnley team may not have been the prefect opponent on a windy day in Lancashire, but he must adapt to the rigours of a physical Premier League if he is to be a success at Selhurst.
Zaha has responded in the best possible way
Wing wizard Wilfried was at his imperious best last weekend and his form following his recent ban has been nothing short of sensational.
The goals are flowing again for Zaha and his assists for the season have hit double figures.
It seems that the standard he has set is so high that he doesn’t at times get the credit he deserves, as it has almost become the norm.
In my 43 seasons watching Crystal Palace there has never been a player that could go past opponents with such ease and it is a privilege to watch him play in the red and blue every week.
His trickery and finish for the third goal at Burnley was sensational. He sent poor Charlie Taylor for a hot dog and the hapless Ben Mee for a programme, before drilling the ball through the legs of James Tarkowski for a memorable goal. Come Monday evening the predictable ‘Sky sources’ are linking him with moves away to clubs that couldn’t afford him. The latest suggesting he could be heading to Borussia Dortmund as a replacement for the Chelsea-bound Christian Pulisic, who has joined for just under £60m.
With the rumoured 25 per-cent sell-on due to Manchester United and relegation costing Palace £100m, I have him at around two-and-a-half times the Pulisic fee. In fact, scrub that, I wouldn’t even do it for £150m!
Kouyate has been a great acquisition
Cheikhou Kouyate returned to the fold last Saturday and showed the travelling Palace contingent just what they had been missing.
The Senegalese midfielder was in a rich vein of form before suffering an ankle injury at Southampton at the end of January, and the 29-yearold put in a rampaging performance in the middle of the park.
Cheik has become a big player and an absolute snip at £10m, without question he is one of the best deals Palace have done in six Premier League seasons. With Luka Milivojevic, Kouyate provides a solid shield in front the back four, which was sorely missed in the defeat to Manchester United, when Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay’s sizeable frames stood out in the midfield battle. The former West Ham man has better feet than I anticipated for a big guy, and his driving runs were really evident at Turf Moor, playing a part in all three goals.
In a midfield three on current form, it’s Luka and Cheik stiffening it up and one from Jeffrey Schlupp, James McArthur or Meyer in my eyes.
Keeper change was a huge surprise
Eyebrows were raised when the teams were announced at 2pm last Saturday as Wayne Hennessey was reinstated in goal at the expense of Vicente Guaita.
Guaita has not done too much wrong since coming into the side, with Palace collecting 18 points from a possible 30, with the former Getafe stopper only ending up on the losing side against Chelsea and Manchester United. Before the statisticians amongst you point to the Watford game at home, I have excluded that from the equation – Palace were leading when he was replaced by Wayne Hennessey, whose mistake led to the visitors’ equaliser, before the winner from Tom Cleverley.
Hodgson put the change down to “rotation” with a nod to the fact he felt that Hennessey might be best able to deal with the crosses and high balls expected to come from wide areas at Burnley.
Hennessey’s performance was mixed with a couple of decent saves mixed with some uneasy moments, and being caught in no man’s land once or twice.
It was certainly a big call from the manager, who did something similar last season when dropping Julian Speroni in favour of Hennessey for the visit of Stoke.
Guaita has been impressive since grasping the opportunity in November and the change looks extremely harsh if he is not restored this weekend.
If not, it appears Hennessey has been given far more leeway, which suggests Hodgson perhaps fancies the taller Welsh international more.
Hodgson has spent much of his coaching career with Mike Kelly by his side, and at Fulham the pair worked with Mark Schwarzer – I understand both Roy and Mike were huge fans of the goalkeeper. In stature, the big Australian is not unlike Hennessey, and this may be why Roy is leaning this way.
The manager seemed keen to leave out Speroni last season whenever possible and Guaita may well be about to suffer the same fate.
Hennessey has a huge frame that should cope with balls in the air and he strikes a ball with either foot with an incredible amount of consistency.
Guaita is more of a ‘shot-stopper’ in the Speroni mould and both seem more likely to produce big saves and are quicker around the goal. This has been evident on a number of occasions, most notably for the Spaniard against Leicester and Cardiff during December. The veteran Speroni arguably turned in the goalkeeping performance of the season in the FA Cup tie against Tottenham.
In spite of the clamour for the ‘modern goalkeeper’ who often represents more style than substance, the currency of the game is goals and the keepers that save 20 goal attempts that they are not supposed to, provide the same value to a team as a 20-goal-aseason striker. The point is best borne out in the fact that the best two finishes in the Premier League came in the first two seasons following promotion when Speroni was almost a permanent fixture. The squads in those two seasons were almost certainly nowhere the level of the four campaigns following, but the fans’ favourite was probably 12 to 15 points in credit each campaign – no keeper has contributed on anywhere near the same level since.
Press reports on Sunday suggest that Guaita may not be in SE25 for the long-term and Jack Butland may be heading for South London in the not too distant future. Roy’s untimely change may suggest that he does not have full faith in the summer signing. If I were Guaita I’d certainly feel hard done by and if not restored this weekend and I suspect he won’t be, he may feel a return to Spain may be in his best interests.
Can Roy’s boys be Palace’s Premier League’s best ever?
Thirty-three points from 29 games has put Palace in a good place to surpass their best Premier League finish of 10th and 48 points.
Should the Eagles pick up maximum points in their remaining two league games this month versus Brighton and Huddersfield, then they would be nine points short of the total with seven to play.
With the Watford FA Cup quarterfinal upcoming it’s going to get interesting.
I would not bet against Roy achieving this and being remembered as Palace’s best-ever Premier League manager.
Adam Sells is the managing director of Sells Goalkeeper Products. He has followed the fortunes of Crystal Palace since 1976, working within the club’s academy for more than 15 years until 2013. He is a licensed intermediary, representing a number of goalkeepers including Julian Speroni.