Crystal Palace vs Everton
Venue: Selhurst Park
Referee: Kevin Friend
TV: Amazon Prime Video
Two games, two wins and two goalscoring talismans. We are only in the second game-week, but the two biggest impressors, thus far, will battle it out in the hope that one of them (or both) can continue their unbeaten start to Premier League life in 2020/21.
Crystal Palace, through a rejuvenated formation, and Everton, with the help of a few new signings, have both started off the season as well as their managers could have hoped. Wins against members of last season’s top six have come and gone. Could either of these two teams find themselves vying for these same positions come May next year?
“It’s always nice to get off to a good start but I’m far too conscious of the fact that it’s a 38-game season and two in 38 is not a great proportion.” says Roy Hodgson in his pre-Everton conference. Obviously, he’s right. However, exciting football can encourage optimism, and this is exactly what Palace have delivered in their four pre-season games and opening two league games of 2020/21.
Without sacrificing his side’s ability to absolutely blunt a world-class attack, Hodgson has managed to alter his side’s attacking nous. His side scored more than two goals in a game against Manchester United in gameweek two. The first time they have managed such a feat for 41 games, since the last match of the 2018/19 season.
The move to a 4-4-2 has been a breath of fresh air for the entire squad. Notably, Andros Townsend has managed a goal and an assist in his opening two games, equalling last season’s tallies for both metrics. While Jeffrey Schlupp, a steely performer last season, has attended to his role to near-perfection and has kept the enigmatic Eberechi Eze benched for these first two games. This has all been achieved with their supposed second-string back four as injuries have decimated their defensive ensemble.
In what is a surprising contradiction, some of Palace’s statistics aren’t all too impressive. Admittedly, this is a small sample size but, the Eagles are spending less time in the opposition third, taking less shots at goal and attempting less dribbles per game this season compared to the last (as per WhoScored.com).
Conversely, they are averaging more shots inside the penalty area and a greater number of key passes. Whilst averaging a vastly superior expected goals per 90 minutes (1.12 this season compared to 0.9 last season) and expected assists per 90 minutes (0.69 compared to 0.62 according to fbref.com).
What does this mean? A great deal. Lead by their first-time captain, Wilfried Zaha, Palace are able to create a greater quality of opportunities and are creating them for each other. Instead of relying on individual brilliance, they are functioning more cohesively as a unit.
Zaha is now able to focus on what he does best – bamboozling opposition defenders in Palace’s attacking third, rather than before he even leaves his half. It has so often been the case in previous seasons, that the Ivorian would have to pick up the ball in his defensive third before taking it to the opposite side where he is expected to create a goal-scoring opportunity. Not this year.
This same crop of players (with a couple of additions who have yet to accumulate significant minutes except from the bench) have adapted to a new style of play to create a new type of headache for the other team.
In saying that, the ‘other team’ this week is Everton. A completely new midfield three, anchored and headed by fresh blood, have unlocked Carlo Ancelotti’s side who were too often loitering in irrelevancy last season.
Much of the headlines have been highlighting the stellar start to Premier League life experienced by James Rodríguez. But would the league debutante be capable of doing what he is doing without the support of a fellow league debutante?
Allan, as he is conveniently named, has allowed Everton’s attackers to, basically, do what they want up forward. It took a season, but the Toffees seemed to have found a very capable replacement for Idrissa Gana Gueye. Importantly, Allan is not a direct Gueye replica. He is hiw own player, with his own strengths and abilities. Unfortunately, Allan’s influence at Everton can’t really be quantified by statistics just yet.
Though, in summary, the Brazillian’s ability to position himself exactly where he needs to be defensively in any situation is unique. Whether it’s to thwart a counter-attack or to help reignite one for his own team with a tackle then a pass. A few misplaced simple passes here and there, especially against Tottenham, will have left his manager a tad exasperated. But his performances as the anchor of midfield have unleashed his more attack-minded peers – his positives far outweighing his limited shortfalls.
Everton have not lost to Palace since the autumn of 2014. 2020’s visit to Serlhurst Park, in match-week three, will be a sterner test and it will most likely be their toughest task of the campaign so far. The hosts ability to simply erase an attack is amongst the best in the Premier League. And with their added attacking forays and competition for places, they look set for a much-improved season.
Mamadou Sakho was the first of the defenders to return from injury and he did so last week, turning up with a commanding performance after suggestions throughout the summer that his wages were surplus to requirements.
Interestingly, Scott Dann was absent from the 18-man squad in their win against Manchester United. After a stone wall-like performance in game-week one,and no explanation, injury seems the most feasible logic for his exclusion, but Hodgson has kept tight-lipped on that front.
Christian Benteke has trained all week and should be included in the matchday squad.
James Tomkins (thigh), Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder), Gary Cahill (hamstring) and Nathan Ferguson (knee) will all be out.
Hodgson did mention in his pre-Everton interview that “One or two others have started to make an appearance but it’s a very brief appearance – not much beyond the warmup and any non-contact passing work.” This could be referring to Jaïro Riedewald, who was pictured training throughout the week. He most likely won’t feature, even from the bench, at least for another week.
It is worth noting that Jordan Ayew’s attacking output may have left fans wanting over the opening two weeks. Although, his defensive work, as a striker, is undeniable and should be enough to keep Michy Batshuayi from taking his place.
Quite contrastingly, Everton remain relatively unhindered. There are no new injuries to report and they do not currently lack any significant squad member.
An impressive attacking performance in the Carabao Cup throughout the week allowed several players the opportunity to remind the manager of the quality that remains on the bench. None more so than Bernard and Alex Iwobi, who both made it onto the scoresheet. Even so, this would not be enough to displace any of the 10 in-form outfield players in the starting 11.
Predicted Starting XIs
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Guaita; Ward, Kouyaté, Sakho, Mitchell; Townsend, McArthur, McCarthy, Schlupp; Ayew, Zaha.
Everton (4-3-3): Pickford; Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne; Doucouré, Allan, Gomes; Rodriguez, Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison.
Score Prediction: Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton
Palace are full of confidence, and this much is the same for their company this weekend. The Eagles will hope to latch onto a few Toffees left in defence while relying on a steadfast midfield partnership to continue their fine work thus far. The hosts have a stronger defence, but a superior offense threatens their walls. These two factors can often result in a stalemate and an intriguing fixture.