Crystal Palace slumped to a gutting 2-1 loss against Brighton at Selhurst Park on Saturday despite their impressive performance away at Turf Moor the week before, and it suddenly became clear that there are some glaring issues to be resolved over the international break.
The Eagles play Watford this weekend in their FA Cup quarter-final clash before a two week break from domestic competition – a period which presents Roy Hodgson with a perfect opportunity to fix what was so wrong about the defeat to their bitter rivals last weekend.
Hodgson has done so much for Palace since taking the wheel in September 2017, although the 71-year-old hasn’t solved everything at Selhurst Park – the Croydon outfit have a terrible home record, compounded by their latest defeat, and the former England boss should focus intently on making the following two improvements this month.
Chris Hughton’s side had two half-chances on Saturday and took them both as they made maximum use of their limited possession, whereas the Eagles had the larger share of the ball and struggled to break down a Brighton defence who were happy to sit deep and soak up pressure.
The Seagulls beat Palace at their own game – the Eagles are so successful away from home because they sit back before hitting their hosts on the counter.
At Selhurst Park, though, Palace are usually the aggressors and they are far less effective when forced to make the first move – Brighton simply waited until they could steal the ball back and hit their rivals on the break.
Hodgson has to work on breaking down teams in a congested final third as their home record cannot be allowed to continue – their most recent loss was their eighth of the season at Selhurst Park.
Unfortunately, Palace lack the presence of a technician who can split the defence on a regular basis but, in Luka Milivojevic, they do have a player who can dictate play from a deep position to a degree – he will likely be on national duty with Serbia. though.
Getting Max Meyer and Jeffrey Schlupp – Palace’s two most dangerous midfielders – into advanced areas will mean that there are more forward options for Milivojevic to find. Hodgson already encourages the two midfielders in front of the captain to get into the box but they must show for the ball more often.
On Saturday, Palace’s decision making in the final third was consistently poor. Contrary to popular belief, the Eagles are more than just Wilfried Zaha plus 10 other players, but even those players sometimes seem to forget that.
There were often far better options to pass to than the influential Ivorian and even Zaha, who wants to be the key man in every game, was frustrated at some of his teammates’ decisions to give him the ball at times when there were others in far more space.
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Palace have a number of players who can cause damage in attack – not just Zaha – and Hodgson must enforce the idea that he isn’t their only danger man. Michy Batshuayi made some excellent runs at the weekend but was rarely spotted.
Zaha will likely be called up to the Ivory Coast squad this month, presenting Hodgson with the chance to get his side training without the winger.