All things considered, it’s been rather a promising start to the year for Crystal Palace.
After drawing one and dropping two of their past five, Palace recorded back-to-back wins in the Premier League for the first time since September after they came from behind to beat Newcastle at St James’ Park.
However, it wasn’t all rosy for Roy Hodgson’s side, as Wilfried Zaha limped off the pitch in the 58th minute with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
But, despite the latest setback, all is not lost. After all, new recruit Jean-Philippe Mateta is still eagerly awaiting his Premier League debut for the Eagles, having joined from Bundesliga side Mainz during the January transfer window on an initial 18-month loan deal with the option to buy that could be made permanent if he meets certain criteria.
With the Ivory Coast winger still waiting for the results of a scan at Selhurst Park, this could be the prime time for Hodgson to test his mettle against Leeds United when they take the trip to Elland Road on Monday night.
There’s no doubting the abilities of Christian Benteke. But, rather than handing a start to a player who at one stage seemed destined for the SE25 exit, Hodgson must look at unleashing the talents of the loan signing, who has been left as an unused substitute on the bench in his past two appearances in a row.
Mateta has proven to be devastating in the final third, particularly for Mainz, as he has scored 10 goals in 17 games in all competitions this season, including seven in the Bundesliga and bagging a hat-trick in a win at Freiburg back in November.
For whatever reason, he hasn’t been given a chance in the Premier League, or any competition for that matter, but we reckon that should change as Palace approach the crunch stage of the competition. After all, he has a penchant for finding the back of the net, which is more than can be said for the likes of Jordan Ayew and Michy Batshuayi – both of whom have combined for a measly two goals in 36 games this campaign. Say no more.
When talking about Mateta, Hodgson said: “We’re very pleased to have him here, we’ve chased him for a period of time and luckily the club have been able to strike a deal with Mainz and we have him now for the next 18 months on loan at least, which is fantastic.”
If Zaha is ruled out due to injury, then playing Ayew on the right and Batshuayi on the left with Mateta as the target man at the top of the pitch could prove to be a tempting option for Hodgson. The Frenchman is evidently still at the fledgling stage of his career but possesses bags of raw, untapped potential and with ten goals and one assist, is improving all the time.
Leeds have looked nothing short of shaky at the back since the start of this season, having conceded 38 goals in 21 games, and the 23-year-old centre-forward should be called upon to lead the line in Zaha’s absence.
Given the struggles of Benteke, Ayew and Batshuayi, the £13.5m-rated Mateta’s inclusion in the starting eleven could prove to be Hodgson’s saviour against the Whites.
AND in other news, Vicente Guaita’s new contract could be bad news for Jack Butland…