If Crystal Palace thought their week had started on an unfortunate note following the 1-1 draw at home to Newcastle United, they had another thing coming.
After the match, the Eagles were hit by the news that Wilfried Zaha sustained a knee injury in the draw at Selhurst Park, which is set to keep him sidelined for at least a month.
Roy Hodgson will be cursing his luck at the moment, with his team having also enjoyed the better of the contest against the Magpies, but failing to take all three points due to profligacy.
While Palace’s expected goals was 3.01, Newcastle’s was only 0.81, yet Christian Benteke and Zaha missed several opportunities to secure the win.
This wasn’t the first time that Palace’s failings in front of goal have cost them this season, and while they’ve done really well to somewhat erase their atrocious start, they’re not yet out of the woods and would be much higher on the log if they’d had an effective strikeforce.
The games against Burnley, Newcastle, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur on the road are all examples, while mini-setbacks at home to Bournemouth and Manchester City might also have been different had they
Things are tight at the bottom half of the table with 10 points separating bottom-placed West Bromwich Albion and Watford in 11th. Palace, for their part, are in 14th place, three points off 18th-placed Stoke City, and cannot afford to be throwing away points as there’s little margin for error.
This is why Hodgson ought to be concerned that Zaha’s injury is coming at a particularly bad time for the Londoners.
Having been put in a difficult situation with long-term injuries to Scott Dann, Jason Puncheon, Jeffrey Schlupp, Connor Wickham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek; the recent injuries to joint top scorer (in all competitions) Bakary Sako and Zaha have plunged the Eagles into a much more precarious situation.
The Ivorian is Palace’s most important player, and if you need proof of that, have a peek at their performances and results with and without him in the side; they are as different as chalk and cheese.
Statistics show that CPFC struggle when the wide player isn’t in the side.
From 26 matches this season (in which he’s played 20 times and missed six fixtures), they’ve won more games, lost less, average more goals and points per game, whilst conceding less goals per game with him in the side.
Undeniably, the forward featured in the opening day 3-0 defeat to Huddersfield Town, but missed the next six as the Eagles struggled under Frank de Boer and then under Hodgson.
You could blame their initial struggles on the Dutchman’s tactics or maybe bad luck, but you can’t deny the South London side missed the powerful Ivorian’s menace and cutting edge in more ways than one. His return to the side against Chelsea was a catalyst in them getting their first goals (and first win) of the season in the stunning victory over the champions at Selhurst Park.
Admittedly, they suffered a 1-0 defeat in the very next game against Newcastle at St. James’s Park, but have lost just three from 17 games since in what has been a remarkable transformation under the former England manager. That decent run will be put in serious jeopardy after Zaha was sidelined.
Zaha’s injury leaves the 14th placed CPFC shorthanded in attack with only Andros Townsend (who’s got the most assists of any Palace player this season), a misfiring Benteke and new signing Alexander Sorloth as attacking options. It’s a bad time to have so many key players unavailable considering the next few fixtures for the Glaziers are against Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea.
If his injury turns out to be worse than initial scans suggested, then it’ll see the dreadlocked winger miss important games against fellow rivals in the race to beat the drop.
After games against the aforementioned four teams, Palace play five of the current bottom half teams in their final eight games of the season. While Zaha’s injury represents a disaster for the Eagles, for their fellow rivals, it’ll be nothing but a relief.
Hodgson is an old-timer, with a career spanning over four decades, but even he is set to be stretched to his limits as he seeks to navigate through a tough run of fixtures. Without a plethora of his key players absent, even the seasoned manager might have his work cut out in trying to call on that distinctive expertise.
The first stop for an injury-ravaged Palace is at Goodison Park, against an Everton side still smarting from their 5-1 defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium last time out and determined to respond in front of expectant Evertonians.
For the Eagles though, who are without several key performers, and Zaha especially, they face a testing month to keep their heads above water in the race to avoid the drop.
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