Six years on from his failed Manchester United move, Wilfried Zaha’s flying form in the Premier League is turning heads yet again.
Zaha lit up the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening, his sparkling performance and decisive goals providing a huge three points for Crystal Palace, and the final nail in the coffin of Claude Puel’s Leicester City reign.
He was a delight to watch throughout, even expressing his own surprise at James Tomkins earning man of the match ahead of him in the post-match interview. He continues to sparkle and cement himself as Palace’s talisman in the hunt for Premier League safety.
With four goals in his last three games in the league, Zaha seems to be answering the question that has always been put up against the Ivorian; his final product.
This has actually been a trend that we have seen over the last couple of years, with 28 direct goal involvements over his last two full seasons in the Premier League, compared with nine in the two prior.
Zaha’s goals are also proving crucial point winners, his smart finishes securing two draws in the games leading up to his goals at Leicester. He is not just excelling in a high performing Palace side, but his high-quality performances are pushing the team to excel.
It is fair to argue that there is not a team in the Premier League that is more reliant on one player than Palace. With five of their next six against the teams around them, you would back Zaha to continue firing and pull them further away from the drop.
This begs the obvious question, is it time for the tricky winger to make the step up to the league’s elite clubs? Certainly. Because two of them are crying out for him.
Chelsea are heading into a significant transition period. Their forthcoming appeal is very likely to result in a suspension of their two-window transfer ban, for at least the next window. Therefore, with the need to recruit immediately, continued uncertainty over Sarri’s future and an ageing side, Chelsea will be in the market. And a position that stands out is on the wings.
Pedro and Willian are both on the wrong side of thirty, and have failed to inspire this season. Hudson-Odoi is an exciting prospect, but Bayern Munich’s persistent chase of the young winger in January suggests they’ll return in the summer. And of course, the influential Eden Hazard, who has been flirting with Real Madrid for years, now suggests the move is closer than ever.
Christian Pulisic’s arrival will help, but by no means be enough. The young American could well take time to develop, and he will not be able to fill the shoes of Chelsea’s current wide men alone. Therefore, bringing in a pacey, exciting winger who is used to the Premier League and entering the peak of career is a no-brainer. Zaha could be one of the marquee signings that kick starts Chelsea’s new era.
They should not be the only London club with an eye on the player’s situation at Selhurst Park. Unai Emery has made no secret of his desire for a winger at Arsenal. Ivan Perisic and Yannick Carrasco were considered in January, but the answer actually sits a lot closer to home.
Their lack of a natural wide player is not a new issue. The team muddled on through Wenger’s latter years at the club by consistently pushing central playmakers and strikers out to the wing. Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Lukas Podolski are the unfortunate culprits that come to mind.
Emery seems keen to address this, with genuine wingers a key aspect of his favoured 4-3-3 formation, and maybe their absence is a reason that he has used this set-up sparingly this year. Although the potential transfer fee for Zaha may prove a stumbling block, he is the quick and powerful winger Emery seems to desire.
It would be wrong not to mention that Zaha has made the step up before. His time at Old Trafford was underwhelming and short-lived, only achieving 28 minutes of Premier League football in a Manchester United shirt.
But things don’t feel the same now, with the player being a different man to the 20-year old that made the move too early. You can’t deny this hasn’t been seen before.
Mohamed Salah and Kevin de Bruyne are both standout players in the league, who were let go by Chelsea in their younger years. Or take Bayern Munich’s biggest threat at Anfield last week, a certain Serge Gnarby, who Arsenal regarded as dispensable.
London’s two biggest clubs are lacking the speed, unpredictability, and directness Zaha provides, and he must be looking to prove his doubters wrong higher up in the game. Players have bounced back from disappointing stints at the top before, and a mature and delivering Wilfried Zaha should be next on the list.
(Stats from WhoScored.com)