Crystal Palace vs Leeds: Combined XI

Marcelo Bielsa

While both may very well end up somewhere in the comfort of midtable come the end of the season, you’ll struggle to find two sides so fundamentally polarised as Leeds and Crystal Palace.

Whereas Marcelo Bielsa has forged a team that thrives on bravely taking the initiative against even the most challenging of opposition by creating as many scoring chances as possible, Roy Hodgson has made the Eagles a Premier League mainstay by organising two banks of four with military-like discipline.

Nonetheless, both are very demanding managers in their own ways and that is part of what makes their Premier League clash this Saturday so curious - a battle of philosophies between two relatively well-matched teams.

But were these opposing thinkers to pool their footballing resources together and decide to meet somewhere in the middle, what exactly would their proverbial lovechild look like? Would it be shockingly hideous or strangely beautiful?

In a bid to find out, here’s GIVEMESPORT’s Leeds and Crystal Palace combined XI…

Goalkeeper - Vicente Guaita

Vicente Guaita

Vicente Guiata has kept a clean sheet in almost a third of all his Premier League appearances, which is pretty good going for this day and age, and is no doubt one of the division’s more assured shot-stoppers outside of the Big Six.

This season he’s registered the same number of saves as Leeds counterpart Illan Meslier, but five less goals have been conceded and his percentage of saves from shots faced is slightly superior. 

Throw in the former Valencia man’s vast experience over Leeds’ 20-year-old shot-stopper and this was a relatively easy choice.

Right Back - Luke Ayling

Luke Ayling

Through the sheer fact Nathaniel Clyne is only just making a comeback at Crystal Palace and Joel Ward operates in the No.2 role with all the grace of an intoxicated giraffe, Luke Ayling takes this combined XI’s right-back slot by default.

The former Bristol City man has acclimatised well to life in the Premier League, ranking a solid twelfth throughout the division for tackles per game before Friday’s action, while always providing the Whites with an outlet on the overlap, averaging 1.1 key passes and 1.6 dribbles per top flight outing.

Right Centre-Back - Gary Cahill

Gary Cahill

Injuries have limited Gary Cahill to just the single start so far this season, but Roy Hodgson will be desperate for the former England man to return to his starting XI as soon as possible.

Cahill stands head and shoulders above the rest of Leeds and Palace’s centre-half options for one simple reason - his vast experience as a former Premier League and Champions League winner.

Sure, the 34-year-old’s best years are well behind him but amid the absence of the likes of James Tomkins, Mamadou Sakho and Scott Dann last season, he was the lynchpin holding the Eagles’ defence together as they conceded the ninth-fewest goals of any Premier League side.

Left Centre-Back - Liam Cooper

Liam Cooper

Decent left-footed centre-backs are something of a rare commodity, so when you throw in Liam Cooper’s leadership qualities as well, he’s something of a luxury for this combined XI.

Injuries have limited his involvement somewhat this season but he helped Leeds to a clean sheet over Sheffield United and held Manchester City to just a single goal in an impressive draw for Bielsa’s side.

Along with Cahill, these two should form a solid partnership that encompasses aerial dominance, no-nonsense defending and the ability to marshal the rest of the team from the back.

Left-back - Patrick van Aanholt

Patrick van Aanholt

While Stuart Dallas has been in pretty impressive form this season with one goal and one of the highest tackle averages in the Premier League, we get the feeling Bielsa would certainly be partial to having Patrick van Aanholt at his disposal.

Essentially a goal-hungry winger who operates from No.3, the Dutchman brings an unorthodox style and genuine netting threat to an Eagles side that otherwise struggles to score on a consistent basis.

Van Aanholt has only managed one start this season due to injury, but he can be a real asset when on top of his game and his adventurous mentality should resonate with the Leeds gaffer.

Right Midfield - Andros Townsend

Andros Townsend

It’s still not completely clear, aside from the form of Jordan Ayew, why Andros Townsend suddenly found himself out in the cold under Roy Hodgson last season.

The former England man is a solid Premier League standard winger and its of little surprise that he’s back to his best upon returning to the Palace starting XI this term.

As well as already chalking up one goal and two assists, the 29-year-old has played a big part off the ball in 2020/21, registering 3.6 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per match.

Leeds winger Helder Costa will feel slightly aggrieved considering he's contributed two goals and two assists this term, but we just couldn’t turn that combination of goal output and hard graft down.

Right Central Midfield - Mateusz Klich

Mateusz Klich

A perfect mixture of industrious and creative, there’s reason Mateusz Klich is at the epicentre of Bielsa’s starting XI.

The Poland international has enjoyed a pretty productive start to life in the Premier League with two goals and two assists thus far, and considering how Jairo Riedewald is Palace's only central midfielder to register any goal involvements this season, Klich’s place in this combined XI is nothing short of a necessity.

Indeed, we want attacking threat from midfield and the 30-year-old offers it in abundance.

Left Central Midfield - Kalvin Phillips

Kalvin Phillips

He’s currently sidelined with injury but Kalvin Phillips’ 2020 form has been so impressive that he’d made Gareth Southgate’s England squad even before registering a first Premier League appearance.

Much like Klich, Phillips has adapted well to top flight football, averaging 3.4 tackles and 2 key passes per game - two returns which aren’t surpassed by any of the other central midfielders in either Leeds or Palace’s squads. 

James McArthur can count himself a little unfortunate to miss out. The Scotland international is a very consistent if somewhat unspectacular midfielder, but ultimately he’s not shown quite enough this term to earn a place over the Leeds duo.

Left Midfield - Jack Harrison

Jack Harrison

Completing what is almost exclusively a Leeds midfield is Jack Harrison.
While Jeffrey Schlupp’s had his moments this season, chiefly a rousing performance at Old Trafford, the Leeds man has looked like a real star in the making since the Yorkshire outfit turned up in the top flight.

He’s been involved in three goals already this season and ranked joint-third in the Premier League for key passes per game going into this game-week, tied with a certain Jack Grealish. 

That creativity will be crucial for feeding our forward line, which brings us nicely onto…

Right Striker - Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha

It’s been an interesting season for Wilfried Zaha. Seemingly disillusioned with what was a very underwhelming 2019/20, the Crystal Palace talisman appears to have swapped relentless dribbling for a greater supply of goals.

Indeed, Zaha’s averaged 2.9 less dribbles per game this time out but already scored more goals than he managed last season with five strikes in total, as well as grabbing one assist.

Perhaps this is the incarnation of Zaha necessary to really take the Premier League by storm after daring to do so for much of his second stint at Selhurst Park.

Left striker - Patrick Bamford

Patrick Bamford

Could it be the case that Patrick Bamford is far better suited to Premier League than Championship football?

While it appeared Leeds would need to sign an upgrade on the 27-year-old to thrive in the top flight after he netted only 16 Championship goals last season, this term he’s already notched up six - including a sensational hat-trick against Aston Villa.

No combined XI can turn down form like that, and thus the former Chelsea youngster completes what we reckon is an incredibly solid side.

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