Although there may appear little to play for for Crystal Palace in the final week of the Premier League season, Patrick Vieira’s men head into Thursday’s clash at Goodison Park with lingering ambitions of securing a top-half finish.
That would represent a promising debut campaign at the helm for the former Arsenal captain, although his side will be faced with an Everton team that are desperate to retain their top-flight status, with the Toffees knowing that a win will confirm their safety.
On recent evidence, the odds will be in the visitors’ favour, however, with the south Londoners having already won twice in this fixture this season, notably running out comfortable 4-0 winners in the FA Cup quarter-final meeting at Selhurst Park just a few months ago.
Looking to make it three from three against the Merseysiders, one man whom Vieira should call upon is former Leicester City star Jeffrey Schlupp, with the Ghanian having made a vital impact off the bench at the weekend to nick a point away at Villa Park.
Just three minutes after entering the fray as a late substitute against Steven Gerrard’s side, the versatile midfielder reacted quickest to a Marc Guehi flick on to instinctively prod home past Emi Martinez, netting his fourth league goal of the campaign – his joint-best top-flight record.
Previously dubbed “underrated” by former boss Roy Hodgson, the 20-cap international has so often flown under the radar for the Eagles, although has seemingly done enough of late to warrant a starting berth this evening.
Formerly a title winner with Leicester, the £7.2m-rated speedster has proven an invaluable asset for his new boss this term, slotting in as part of the forward line but also as a dynamic, midfield presence.
The club’s £60k-per-week unsung hero has performed favourably among his fellow midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues, ranking in the top 4% for blocks made, as well as in the top 7% for dribbles completed and 8% for touches in the attacking penalty area, illustrating his value at both ends of the pitch.
The 29-year-old – who has been labelled “quite incredible” by Hogdson – is out of contract this summer, however, with the remaining two fixtures potentially offering him the chance to stake his claim for a new deal.
On his form this term, the one-time Brentford loanee – who is the seventh-best performing player in the Palace squad this season – deserves both a start tonight and a contract extension, with it difficult to replace such a flexible and versatile asset.