In a game that ebbed and flowed, Crystal Palace and Everton drew 0-0 at Selhurst Park as neither team could find a winner despite several clear-cut chances and the Toffees being reduced to 10-men in the 75th minute.
Despite 11 new incoming players between the two clubs, only two featured with both of them coming off the bench for Everton.
The Toffees largely dominated proceedings early before the home side levelled their intensity in the latter stages of the first half.
Just before the half-time whistle, Jean-Phillipe Gbamin was brought on to replace the injured Andre Gomes who couldn’t carry on after a coming together with Andros Townsend in the middle of the park, with fears over the severity of his ankle injury.
Palace came out on the front foot in the second-half with the much-maligned Christian Benteke integral to two beautifully orchestrated counter-attacks but neither Max Meyer nor Jordan Ayew could finish the good work.
Wilfried Zaha, after having trained less than a handful of occasions due to a late return from the AFCON, was brought on to the cheers of the home crowd drowning out any ill-directed attention from the travelling fans.
The remaining 25 minutes saw a second yellow card to an accepting Morgan Schneiderlin after delivering his fair share of brute challenges following the introduction of Moise Kean for his Everton debut just minutes before.
It was a timid finish on the opening day, as both sides would have felt they could have come away with three points instead of the one, but both managers will be content with a draw and a clean sheet to start the season
Sigurðsson and Co. off the pace
Despite surpassing their combined season average from the 2018/19 season of shots per game against Palace, not one of Sigurðsson (2.3 shots per game last season and 4 shots against Palace), Richarlison (2.4 and 3) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (1.5 and 1) could find the back of the net. It wasn’t a lack of opportunities that was the issue, but instead the quality and ferocity of the finishes.
Sigurðsson steered the first effort of the game several yards wide of the post striking the bouncing ball with his first touch from just beyond the penalty spot, relieving the Palace keeper of any disquietude. The Íslendingur had another shot of his cleared off the line in the second-half via intelligent defensive positioning from Patrick van Aanholt.
Richarlison himself was gifted his only threatening glance at goal after a rare mistake from the ill-erroneous Luka Milivojevic. The Everton winger took his shot first-time from just on the edge of the box, perpendicular to the penalty spot, curling his effort to the left of the goal post and wide of a sprawling Vincenté Guaita who may not have got to the ball had it been on target.
Otherwise, Everton’s joint top scorers from last season, Richarlison and Sigurðsson failed to provide much threat going forward, or at least close to the staggeringly high standards they have set for themselves. Sigurðsson was substituted off before 80 minutes for just the 8th time in his last 63 league starts for Everton, while Richarlison could not emulate his two-goal game-week performance last season. After a slower start, both attackers will be looking to get fully back into the groove and capitalise on their opportunities in their next game.
A tale of two full-backs
Life without one of the most promising young defenders in world football and the best tackling defender in the league began on the weekend for Palace, as Joel Ward started game-week one in what is sure to be the first of many starts this season. While Patrick van Aanholt resumed his position at the left of Palace’s defence, a role that he has made his, entering his fourth season at the club.
The two were matched against a pair of Brazillian wingers – Bernard on the left and Richarlison on the right – with Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman accompanying them.
Each of the Palace fullbacks had defensive assistance from their own wingers, with the tireless and seasoned Andros Townsend familiar with Hodgson’s system and what his former England manager requires from his wingers. Whilst the German Max Meyer is being trialled in a new position on the left-side of midfield with Hodgson struggling to find room for the 23-year-old in the centre of midfield.
The lack of experience of experience from Meyer and cohesion between the left-sided pair was clear, Everton used their right side of the pitch 47% of the time in attack, clearly trying to exploit the defensive frailties on Palace’s left. van Aanholt was caught out of position multiple times as Everton switched the ball to an unmanned Coleman in paddocks of space in attack. Max Meyer – for all his excellent offensive work – was slack in tracking back, but he can be forgiven for his inexperience in the position, but will Hodgson be so forgiving in his team selection next week?
On the opposite flank, Ward and Townsend resumed a partnership that was ever-so common before the rise and departure of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Ward was more than astute in defence, nullifying Bernard’s threat and eradicating his presence from the game. While Townsend’s dizzying running up and down the pitch is an asset that has been undervalued by many Palace fans and those involved with football in England. If the seven-time capped English winger can add a bit more consistency to his end-product, he may well find himself donning the kit of the Three Lions once more.
Benteke dominant but service lacking
The fall of Christian Benteke has been well documented throughout the previous two seasons. A striker with 70 goals in his 201 Premier League appearances has scored just 5.7% of those in his last 47 games throughout his previous 2 campaigns.
Although he didn’t add to his tally of goals against Everton, his performance would have gone a long way to helping him believe he can once again become the prolific striker he has proven he can be. Benteke won more aerial duels (8) than Michael Keane (4) and Yerry Mina (3) combined, besting the pair at least aerially on the day.
He very well could have added to his career assist tally during the game as well, a perfectly timed and weighted short through ball cleared the Everton defensive line and sent Jordan Ayew through, but the Ghanaian could not put his effort past a strong Jordan Pickford.
Benteke was also involved in the build-up play that eventually saw Max Meyer having only Pickford to beat just minutes later. In assisting the assister, he laid it off to Townsend on the counter who sent Meyer through, on the left, with a first-time pass, but the German could not find his way past an imposing Pickford yet again.
Benteke tired throughout the day to provide for his teammates but was often left wanting on the odd occasion that Palace would cross the ball. Palace whipped in 15 crosses, the same total as their average last season which was the equal lowest average for crosses per game. When playing with a target man who thrives and dominates the aerial ball, it is still unclear as to why Palace don’t try and utilise these obvious strengths more often.
This was a performance for the Belgian to build upon and hopefully return to his dominant former-self, full of confidence.
The ever-prevalent Seamus Coleman and his new Leighton Baines
Last season Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne combined for 6 goals and 6 assists – the third highest goal contribution total (12) for any defensive pairing outside of the top 6. The fullback combinations of Wolves (15) and Leicester (15) both had higher combinations playing 391 minutes and 843 more minutes than the Everton pair, respectively. Watching this season-opening encounter, it was clear as to how they accumulated such a healthy number.
The pair caused havoc for the opposition with both of them registering a goal and a key pass in the fixture. Digne’s shot came in the 31st minute when, approaching the box, he received the ball and took a touch inside the 18-yard box. His shot deflected off a Palace defender and fell into the path of an advancing Coleman on the right side of the box. Coleman struck his effort into a well-positioned Vincente Guaita, from just on the edge of the 6-yard box but if it was placed an inch either side of the keeper it may well have been the difference between the two teams.
Entering his seventh permanent season with the Toffees, Coleman put in a near-flawless offensive performance for a full-back but his attacking outlay had it’s adverse effects. The Irishman was caught up the pitch on multiple occasions when Palace went on the counter, which is maybe why Marco Silva was intent on signing premier-level competition for Coleman in French right-back Djibril Sidibé. It remains to be seen how – and if – the pair will be rotated between fixtures, but as Everton manager Marco Silva has said, he does have a pair of “high quality” right backs at his disposal.
The ageing Leighton Baines has recently struggled with injury and form and entering the 2018/19 season, he was Everton’s only enticing option at left-back. Just over a week before the deadline of the summer transfer window of 2018, Lucas Digne signed for the club, seen as the long-term replacement for Baines at 25 years old. In his debut season, he made the 11th most tackles of all defenders (72) and was ranked 2nd at the club only behind the league’s ‘best’ tackler and now ex-teammate Idrissa Gueye (142). He also registered the second most assists for Everton, showing he could do it at both ends of the ground, much like his Baines, his predecessor.
It wasn’t long ago that Coleman and Baines were terrorising teams as maybe the most prominent full-back pairing in the league. Baines’ time may be up, but the right-back position is still Coleman’s to lose. With Digne as Seamus’ full-back partner for 2019/20 it seems Everton fans will continued to be spoilt by their full-backs for yet another season.
Zaha’s back… But for how long?
Such is social media nowadays that any picture, caption or hashtag can create a media storm for weeks. After the match on Saturday, Zaha posted a picture to Instagram captioned “Appreciate the love today from the Cpfc family” following the endearing support upon his introduction to the game on 65 minutes.
Not to rehash a story that is familiar to most, but Zaha’s importance to Palace cannot be understated. In fact, Zaha’s potential to make an impact at almost any club can’t be overlooked. After coming on with just 25 minutes remaining in the 90, Zaha struggled in his first few minutes upon his return to competitive football following the AFCON. However, as the saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down.
Zaha went on to complete two dribbles during his cameo – the equal most between the two defensively disciplined teams – and accumulated eight touches inside the box. His eight touches inside the box was the equal-fourth most that anyone managed throughout the entire league on the opening weekend.
The Ivorian’s ability to create an opportunity from a seemingly barren opening is extremely valuable and something Palace will again look to exploit until the January transfer window at the very least. Whether he continues to ply his trade in the red and blue beyond January is unpredictable, but Zaha is definitely not the sort of player to throw in the towel and watch as others toil.
Everton will return home to Goodison Park where they’ll play Watford hoping to build from a solid display against a side that was humiliated at home to Brighton in game-week one. While Palace will travel to Bramall Lane to help introduce Sheffield United to the Premier League once more, hoping to blunt the Blades’ first home fixture.