In the Premier League, eleven men take to the field for the fans, eleven men battle to win three points and a bunch of men make up a squad. In spite of this, few men have the ability to transform a team and take the fans expectations on their shoulders. Crystal Palace have had a turbulent season to date and after losing their opening seven games of the campaign, there was doubt and agitation ringing around Selhurst Park. Their first win came in a 2-1 home triumph over champions Chelsea with Wilfried Zaha scoring the winner in only his second appearance after suffering a knee injury early into the season.
In the opening statements of this article, Wilfried Zaha is this player for Palace that springs to mind. Although I am not stating Zaha is one of the stand-out Premier League players, like Salah, De Bruyne and Kane, the 25-year-old certainly has impressed this season even though his season has been rinsed with knocks and injuries, he revolutionizes the Palace side and they have a specialized style of play with him on the field.
The winger, born in Ivory Coast, is in-fact eligible to play for England. However, after appearing twice for the Three Lions, he snubbed the chance to play for the Three Lions again and has since made eight appearances for his place of birth. Coincidently, it was Hodgson who gave Zaha his England debut in a friendly match against Sweden in 2012 which is possibly where the distinct level of respect between player and manager at Palace stems from.
When Roy Hodgson took charge of Crystal Palace in August, the Eagles had lost all seven of their opening fixtures under Frank De Boer. Hodgson took the helm and made an instant impact. The ex-Three Lions coach has stabilized their season and has eight victories, eleven draws and another nine defeats on his record. Significantly, Palace have been without Wilfried Zaha in 10 of the teams defeats this season meaning Zaha has only picked up six defeats this campaign.
The winger has seven goals in 26 games in the Eagles shirt. Having said this, it is not this factor of his game which attracts attention. He transforms Palace into a different proposition. His intelligence with the ball at his feet is second to none, as well as this, his eagerness to receive the ball from his team mates and stride towards goal must make him a dream to play with.
His pace, trickery and proficiency to go past players leads many defenders to resorting to rough tactics to stop him, with the Palace fans often heard chanting ‘he’s just too good for you.’ According to talk sport, at the end of last month Wilfried had made 87 successful dribbles this season and sat second in the league behind Hazard, not an awful place to be. In only 26 appearances this season, he has made 56 shots with 22 of these on target and provided 74 crosses for his team mates, noteworthy stats for a Premier League side.
Understandably, Hodgson is keen to keep onto Zaha come the Summer and he is full of praise for the player who has started his football life, at the age of 12, in South London. Hodgson recently stated, ‘he’s such an important player for Crystal Palace, he’s a player that we regard as our own, so of course we’d like to keep him’.
With the end of the season looming, although attention will be turning to the World Cup, the transfer window will begin to track coverage. There has been talk of Zaha packing his bags and making the switch from South London to North to join Spurs. Historically, Tottenham did bid for the winger back in August 2016 and the prospect of Zaha making the move would excite many Tottenham fans. There has also been murmurs of the Ivory Coast national joining the newly instated Premier League Champions, who have been monitoring the player. Yet these are probably just mere rumors.
Nevertheless, Zaha has recently declared his fondness of his hometown club and with four years remaining on his current contract which was signed last year, it appears he won’t be leaving Selhurst Park anytime soon.
Taking this all into context, there are parts of the 25-year-olds game which are not handsome. Since the start of 2015-16, Wilfried Zaha has been shown more yellow cards for diving than any other player in the Premier League with four to his name. The most recent coming in their away draw at Watford, where arguably a penalty undoubtedly should have been given. Despite this, he has the prowess to draw a foul and remains one of the highest fouled players within the league. With this in mind, the winger has ability to win fouls in important areas and provide his side with considerable goal scoring chances and it is this, alongside his other special characteristics, which could make him a Crystal Palace legend.
There is no doubt, Zaha is one of the most alluring players currently applying his trade in the Premier League and if the 25-year-old is to have an injury free season next campaign, he could be an extremely important asset to Hodgson and Crystal Palace and could see his name mentioned amongst the best.
Written by Eamon Kitching.