This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Since arriving at Crystal Palace in an £11m deal from London rivals West Ham, Cheikhou Kouyate hasn’t always been one of the first names on Roy Hodgson’s team-sheet.
The Senegal international made 21 Premier League starts last season, as well as 10 substitute appearances, but everytime he steps out onto the pitch for the Eagles he seems to have a huge say in proceedings.
A dominant presence in midfield, Kouyate is almost like an N’Golo Kante-type figure for the South Londoners, if the diminutive Frenchman doubled in size of course.
Since returning to the starting line-up for the third game of the new season against Manchester United, having had an extended holiday after helping Senegal reach the Africa Cup of Nations final, Kouyate got the Eagles an unexpected 2-1 win.
The 29-year-old carried that form into the most recent outing against Aston Villa, playing a huge role in ensuring that Palace’s midfield did not get overrun.
Without Kouyate, Hodgson usually lines up with James McArthur, Max Meyer and Luka Milivojevic, two of whom are fairly small players which can tend to leave Milivojevic doing all of the combative stuff alone.
With the former Anderlecht midfielder alongside him though, the south Londoners look much more solid in the middle of the park with Kouyate winning the aerial duels and driving forward along with Milivojevic.
It is that latter trait which is invaluable to Palace. When the 6 foot 4 powerhouse starts striding up the pitch and eating the grass up, it pushes the opposition back and helps the Eagles move up and avoid being put under pressure.
It is no coincidence that in the two games that he has been in the starting XI, Palace have picked up six points and only conceded a single goal, with even that being courtesy of a Daniel James wonder-strike.
The lanky Senegalese midfielder is a vital player for Palace in many aspects, but specifically to avoid them being overrun in midfield.