This article is part of Football FanCast’s Off the Bench series, which places in-game managerial decisions and squad selections under FFC’s microscope.
After enjoying an impressive beginning to the campaign that saw them start the match-day weekend in the top-half of the Premier League table, Crystal Palace fell to a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
As many would have expected, Roy Hodgson’s side were set up to try and soak up the pressure before hitting the Blues on the counter-attack. Unfortunately for the Eagles, whilst they held out for the first-half, they couldn’t stop the west London side from breaching their defence just after the break.
A fine flick from Willian set Tammy Abraham free inside the box, and the centre-forward buried the opportunity to give Chelsea the lead. The goal seemed to give Frank Lampard’s men the confidence in their search for a second, and former Borussia Dortmund man Christian Pulisic duly obliged with just over ten minutes remaining. In a game where they mustered just one shot on target in the entire game, Hodgson desperately needed someone like Christian Benteke to bring a focal point to their attack.
At 6 foot 3, the 28-year-old has always been an intimidating presence up front. He has an incredible career average of winning 6.9 aerial duels per game, and against Chelsea, his side could really have done with that. Palace averaged just 40% possession at Stamford Bridge, and whilst Jordan Ayew battled admirably at the top of the pitch – he earned two free-kicks and won eight duels – he was starved of service.
Bringing someone like Benteke on to partner him, or even replace him, would have brought the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend into the game. Whenever Chelsea pressed, the Palace defence could simply go back-to-front instead of trying to play through the lines, and that would have helped get them a much-needed foot-hold in the contest. Instead, Hodgson chose to bring on Jeffrey Schlupp and James McCarthy despite the side needing goals. It was a major in-game insight that the experienced boss completely missed.