Following Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, the pressure was back on Manchester City ahead of their clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Reds had extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to seven points with their success on the south coast, meaning that Pep Guardiola’s side could not afford to draw or lose against a team who had performed very well against them earlier in the campaign.
Steve Parish did not want to give too much away, but he did in effect confirm that the deal was close.
“These things are never straightforward but we’re really trying to get someone in early,” the Crystal Palace chairman told beIN SPORTS in a pitchside interview ahead of the 1-0 defeat by Chelsea on December 30. “For once, the papers are probably not miles off what we’re looking at.”
Sunday’s clash between Crystal Palace and Chelsea, it is fair to say, will not be included on many end-of-season lists remembering the best games of 2018/19. There were very few chances at either end of the pitch at Selhurst Park, with N’Golo Kante dispatching perhaps the only clear-cut opportunity of the game to give the visitors a 1-0 win.
Chelsea’s next assignment, a home game against Southampton on Wednesday, again featured little in the way of goalmouth action. On this occasion the Blues were not able to find the back of the net at all, as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s charges succeeded in frustrating the top-four aspirants.
After becoming the first Premier League team to beat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium since , Crystal Palace would have been expected to make relatively light work of Cardiff City on Boxing Day. Things did not quite go to plan for Roy Hodgson’s men, however, as a flurry of missed chances saw them held to a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park.
Given that Maurizio Sarri only made one outfield signing in the summer transfer market, he has done an excellent job at Chelsea so far this season. Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion moved the Blues three points clear of Arsenal in fifth place, with Tottenham Hotspur still just two points ahead in third.
All eyes were on Manchester City on Saturday afternoon. The reigning Premier League champions suffered their first defeat of the season last time out, going down 2-0 to Chelsea despite dominating the opening 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge.
City fell behind to the Blues when N’Golo Kante smashed a shot past Ederson on the stroke of half-time, but they were unable to find an equaliser in a rather subdued second-half showing. David Luiz doubled the hosts’ lead with a header from a corner in the , confirming City’s maiden league loss in 2018/19 after a brilliant return of 13 victories and two draws from their opening 15 encounters.
West Ham United won their third Premier League game in a week on Saturday afternoon, coming from a goal down to beat Crystal Palace 3-2 at the London Stadium. It is a result which takes Manuel Pellegrini’s men into the top half of the table for the first time this season, while Palace are now looking nervously over their shoulder having slipped to 16th spot in the standings.
Following Tuesday’s dire display in a 3-1 loss to arch-rivals Brighton and Hove Albion, Roy Hodgson would have been looking for a reaction here. The Eagles could not have wished for a better start, as James McArthur raced onto James Tomkins’ flick-on from a free-kick to prod the ball past Lukasz Fabianski and into the West Ham net. Both teams had chances before half-time, but Palace held on to their one-goal advantage and went into the interval in a winning position – the first time they have done so away from home since the 1-0 triumph over Huddersfield Town in the middle of September.
Hodgson presumably instructed his team to keep things tight at the back and look for openings on the counter-attack, but – not for the first time this week – Palace completely collapsed and shipped three goals in a 20-minute period. First, Robert Snodgrass converted with a fine left-footed shot from just outside the penalty area, before Javier Hernandez capitalised on a Wayne Hennessey mistake to turn the loose ball home after Felipe Anderson’s free-kick was saved. Anderson himself stepped up to score the hosts’ third of the afternoon, brilliantly bending his strike into the far post after being afforded too much time by the Palace rearguard.
Jeffrey Schlupp may have given the visitors a semblance of hope when he headed home a Max Meyer cross in the 76th minute, but the damage had already been done by that stage of proceedings. Palace pushed for an equaliser without ever really coming close to finding out, forcing the under-fire Hodgson to contemplate a 10th defeat of the campaign. Fulham are the only side who have lost more Premier League games this term, and relegation suddenly looks like a very real possibility for a club who should be doing much better.
Hodgson will inevitably come under increasing pressure should Palace fail to beat Leicester City next Saturday, and some of the frustration with the veteran boss is understandable. Hodgson is often too slow to make in-game changes when plan A is not bearing fruit, a charge which was also levelled at him during Palace’s successful end to the 2017/18 campaign. Some have also taken issue with his tendency towards caution, which has at times seen the south Londoners punished after failing to increase their lead.
At the same time, though, it is possible to have a great deal of sympathy with the former England boss. Those who called for Hodgson to make wholesale changes after the Brighton debacle clearly did not appreciate how little the Palace manager has to work with outside of his starting XI; Jason Puncheon, Alexander Sorloth and Jordan Ayew are the go-to attacking options on the bench at present, but no member of that trio is Premier League quality. Fielding Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend up front in a 4-4-2 formation certainly is not ideal, but Hodgson clearly feels he has no other option given the paucity of quality in reserve.
Palace are now in their sixth consecutive season in the Premier League, which makes the lack of strength in depth difficult to defend. A substantial wage bill prevented the Eagles from splashing the cash in the summer, even as Yohan Cabaye – previously one of the club’s highest earners – departed for Al-Nasr in the United Arab Emirates. A failure to implement a long-term recruitment strategy in recent years has come back to haunt Palace; new signings have usually had very little resale value, meaning there was always likely to come a point when the wage bill needed to be trimmed. Since winning promotion from the Championship in 2013, Palace’s decision-making has been too reactive, with managers largely appointed because of their fire-fighting abilities and players acquired with a short-term focus.
Hodgson is certainly not blameless as far as the Eagles’ recent results are concerned, but the malaise runs far deeper than the man in the dugout. At present Palace feel like a club lacking in direction and leadership, and if they are not careful it could result in relegation back to the second tier at the end of the campaign.
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Ask any Crystal Palace supporter what their favourite game of this decade has been and there is a good chance they will refer you to the 2-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion in May 2013. That underdog triumph came in the second leg of the Championship play-off semi-finals, as Wilfried Zaha’s brace sent Palace to Wembley and their arch-rivals out.
Palace have visited the Amex Stadium twice since then, drawing 0-0 in the Premier League this time last year and losing 2-1 in the third round of the 2017/18 FA Cup. That defeat was a disappointment, of course, but both sides made changes to their starting XIs and the narrow margin of victory meant the evening did not go down as an embarrassment. The same, however, cannot be said for Tuesday night’s encounter on the south coast.
In truth, last Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur flattered Chelsea. The gulf in class between the two teams at Wembley was much vaster than a two-goal margin would suggest, as Spurs comprehensively outplayed their London rivals to climb above them and into third place in the Premier League table.
Chelsea were exposed defensively against Mauricio Pochettino’s men, with David Luiz particularly shaky up against a lively front three of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min. The post-mortem has focused more on the makeup of the Blues’ midfield, though, after Jorginho was effectively shackled by Alli and N’Golo Kante again looked uncomfortable in a No.8 role.
It has been a nightmare run of fixtures for Crystal Palace, but the light at the end of the tunnel is coming into view. Having locked horns with London trio Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in their last three games, Roy Hodgson’s side now face the daunting task of a trip to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United this weekend. After that, though, the schedule – on paper at least – looks a great deal kinder, and Palace must take advantage if they are to avoid another relegation scrap this season.