LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 30: Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace is challenged by Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea FC at Selhurst Park on December 30, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Chelsea goes into the last break of the year with a match against Crystal Palace. The Eagles are wily and sneakily good and the Blues must be prepared.
When Frank de Boer was sacked after a nightmare start to the season, Crystal Palace turned to former England manager Roy Hodgson. Given his age and other factors, it felt like a short term solution so that Palace could find a longer term solution. Few expected them to stay up, but they did. Fewer would have expected he would still be at the club in 2019 while doing incredibly well.
Hodgson is one of, if not the most well traveled English managers. He has been a manager since the 1970s, spending much of his time as a manager outside of England. Stints in Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Finland and even the United Arab Emirates for various clubs and national teams round out the majority of his career. In England he is mostly known for his lone season at Liverpool and an English stint that ended with a whimper against Iceland.
But his varied career has given him a huge tactical tool box that he has brought with him to Crystal Palace. It is not necessarily flashy, but he has effectively taken Palace from the relegation zone to being thesixth best Premier League club in 2019. They currently sit ninth in the table and that is no mistake. Palace is wily and sneakily good and Frank Lampard must prepare Chelsea for a tough match.
At Palace, Hodgson has played around with the formation but has mostly landed on some variant of a 4-3-3 these days. The only other formation he really uses is the 4-4-2 (both a flat four and a diamond), but against the bigger sides it is mostly always a 4-1-4-1 or 4-5-1 shape. The distinction seems to be mainly down to whether Wilfried Zaha plays on the wing or as a striker.
Offensively, much of what Palace tries to do does happen through Zaha. Much like Eden Hazard used to be at Chelsea, Palace tries to funnel much of their attack through Zaha. His ability to find space and take players on makes Palace incredibly dangerous anytime they get over the halfway line and Chelsea will know that as well as almost any team.
But it would be a mistake to just focus on Zaha. Nearly every Palace winger and fullback is capable of taking players on and finding pockets of space to exploit between opposition wide and central players. They enjoy fast attacks down the wings and the fullbacks will need to stay alert.
Of course, having so many wide players willing to take opponents on can also have its downside. Palace does not keep the ball well and they are often left open for counters after a failed dribble. Their greatest weapon is also one of their big weaknesses as a result.
Off the ball, Palace tries to stay as compact as possible in either a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 that shifts across the field in relation to the ball. They will press aggressively in wide areas and if they do win the ball there, they will be well set up to start their preferred method of attack.
The biggest thing Lampard’s Chelsea will need to keep in mind is control of the game. Palace is a flowing team that often uses their defensive actions to go right into attacking actions. But the way they put together attacks leaves them vulnerable and that is where Chelsea needs to strike. It would be far too easy for this game to turn into a back and forth, all out goal fest if the Blues do not stay disciplined.
Chelsea can take heart knowing if Palace struggles against anyone, it is the top six. If Lampard’s side can control the flow of the game, Palace will fold eventually. But if Hodgson’s side is given an inch, they will take a yard. Lampard will need to remind his men of that going into this one.