The topic of Wilfried Zaha is a ubiquitous one in any conversation, discussion or debate surrounding Crystal Palace – so it will come as no surprise that a former Palace midfielder has again raised questions of Palace’s ability to succeed without their talismanic forward.
Palace beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage on Saturday to move up to seventh as of Monday, with ten points from their opening six games. They were undoubtedly helped by a close-range finish from the forward to collect his fifth goal in six games, but not before a sumptuous no-look drifting pass capered past the Fulham backline to Jairo Riedewald, who coolly curled his first goal for the Eagles past Alphonse Areola.
Their points tally makes for better reading after ending their previous season with a winless run of eight games – understandably a run that put pressure on Hodgson’s side to bounce back. Evidently, Hodgson knows how to yield results at present.
However, the Fulham result speaks of a victory that was a true team effort.
Crystal Palace increased their shots on target in the game ten-fold, representing the most they have managed in an away Premier League since August 2018, – with that game also being against Fulham. Wilfried Zaha’s fine form is evident too; his tally of five goals in his last six Premier League games for Crystal Palace stands as equal to his previous 41 combined.
Hodgson was keen to highlight a renewed energy from the whole squad against Fulham, claiming the morale and work ethic of the squad is superb. It does at least partially counter the suggestion that individual brilliance alone is the sole factor in Palace’s recent success.
“We’ve got a stronger squad,” he said. “There’s no question of that. Looking at the bench there were some good players that had been kept out by the fact we had a good start and the guys who got in, for one reason or another, have managed to keep their places.
“That’s a major factor without a shadow of a doubt. I think the team discipline, organisation and work-rate is also extremely important. Even on days when our passing and attacking play isn’t quite as good as it was today we still stay in games and give ourselves a chance of getting some points.
“And I think the team spirit is very good – the guys know what they’ve got to do to climb up the table and they’re all determined I think to do that.”
It is certainly true in terms of goals that Zaha has been the cornerstone of this season’s early success and taking away Zaha’s goals would leave the Eagles anguishing. He truly does win points on his own.
However, their latest victory saw Palace’s offensive acumen rewarded with three points with a greater creative fluidity to Palace’s overall play. A comfortable, assured performance is great cause for optimism – a performance that showed quality from every player to set foot on the pitch.
If Palace continue that level up, the future will be bright, with of Wilf-out their talisman stepping up.