CRYSTAL PALACE 3
Bardsley 15 og Batshuayi 48 Zaha 76
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT TURF MOOR
As far as team performances go, this was a nearly faultless one as Crystal Palace were led to a fine victory by a resurgent Wilfried Zaha.
Zaha was menacing throughout. For all his stepovers, clever footwork and general trickery, he can be frustratingly absent where and when it matters. But against Leicester, Manchester United last Wednesday and now here at Turf Moor, a more mature, effective player shone through.
The talk of a big money move away has died down. He is far more valuable to Palace than to any club who would buy him, given his price tag is upwards of £50million. That is essentially a blessing for the Eagles, who need their star player even when he is not at his best. Those dips in form – of which there have perhaps been too many this season – are enough to prevent him angling for a move away, with the knowledge that his limitations are just enough to stop a move to a Champions League side.
At Turf Moor, Palace were excellent. This was a gritty performance which steadily improved to become a vintage team victory, guided by Zaha’s influence in all three goals.
The first came on 15 minutes. It was the Ivorian on a classic counter-attack who injected a burst of speed down the right wing, beat Charlie Taylor and crossed into the penalty area. The Burnley defence cleared but only as far as Jeffrey Schlupp who cut the ball back in to see Phil Bardsley turn the ball into his own net while attempting to clear.
Up to that point, the hosts had predominantly held most of the possession, and they continued to keep the ball more throughout the remaining half an hour of the first half.
But Palace under Hodgson play very much on the counter attack, at least until they end up in the ascendency. They came under pressure midway through the half when Chris Wood advanced into the area before firing at goal. Wayne Hennessey – brought in to counter Burnley’s aerial threat – spread himself well to initially narrow the angle and subsequently block the shot.
Zaha was again involved in almost everything going forward, the midfield opting to find him down the right time after time. He knocked the ball past Ben Mee to be booked for a cynical block.
But as good as Zaha was, it was the return of Aaron Wan-Bissaka from injury that aided him significantly.
The young right-back had a slow start but after the Eagles went ahead he came into his own, expertly challenging and coming away with the ball, moving it into good positions before frequently laying it off to Zaha. This continued throughout the match. The youngster’s return boosted his side both in defence and on the attack.
The pair both played a part in doubling the lead just three minutes into the second half. Zaha found Wan-Bissaka who moved forwards and played a perfect low cross for Michy Batshuayi to thump beyond Tom Heaton.
It would be the Eagles’ talisman who put the game to bed when he used his quick feet to bamboozle Taylor and Ben Mee, making space before firing into the back of the net.
Yes, this was his day. He was clever with his use of the ball, he played with his team-mates rather than trying to do everything himself. There was one occasion when he did too much, but he can be forgiven a minor misdemeanour. Largely he kept his cool despite frequent hefty challenges. Roy Hodgson subbed him with the game won.
This victory belonged to Zaha but also to his fellow academy graduate who is somehow even more enjoyable to watch despite the less eye-catching position. With Gareth Southgate sat in the stands, anything less than a senior England call up would be desperately disappointing.
It also warrants acknowledgement of the role played by Scott Dann and James Tomkins. Aside from a 90th minute lapse when Ashley Barnes nodded home an Ashley Westwood centre, the pair marshalled Burnley’s hefty centre-forwards, Barnes and Chris Wood. Martin Kelly has performed admirably when deputising, but Dann was almost faultless here.
Five changes were made by Hodgson, with Wan-Bissaka, Dann, Max Meyer, Kouyate and Hennessey coming in. The only disappointment was Meyer, who saw the game pass him by. James McArthur looked positive when coming on to replace the German, and it seems unlikely he will lose his place in the long term.
Batshuayi ought to have scored when he latched onto a misjudged header back from Mee, to be one on one with Heaton, only to run the ball too far.
There was very little that went wrong in this game, but the failure to keep a clean sheet by conceding late on will be a cause for frustration. Palace were a little slow to start, but then blew their opponents away – as they did at Leicester.
It could, and should have been a greater margin of victory here, but Hodgson will be content with his team’s efforts.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Hennessey 6, Wan-Bissaka 8, Tomkins 7, Dann 8, Van Aanholt 6, Kouyate 6, Milivojevic 6, Meyer 4 (McArthur 71), Zaha 8 (Townsend 79) Batshuayi 7 (Benteke 83), Schlupp 6. Not used: Guaita, Ward, Kelly, Ayew.