Crystal Palace are seen as one of this season's biggest success stories, with Premier League wins at Chelsea and Liverpool helping Alan Pardew's side end 2015 in fifth place. The former Newcastle manager is said to be on the FA's shortlist to replace Roy Hogson and has half-jokingly been linked with Real Madrid. A passionate Five Live caller even backed him to replace Louis van Gaal at Manchester United!
But Tuesday night's 1-0 defeat against Aston Villa made for grim viewing. No corners and just one shot on target against the league's worst team, making it four games without a goal for Palace. Worse, those four games were against sides in the bottom seven.
Look deeper and you come across some alarming statistics that suggest their Plan A isn't sustainable. This plan tends to rely on pacy wingers, counter-attacking and set-piece goals. The four goalless games have coincided with a leg injury to Yannick Bolasie and brief absences of Yohan Cabaye.
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Pardew is expected to sign a new striker this month, after reaching mid-January with only one goal scored by a striker all season. And even that was a penalty! Three of Cabaye's five goals have been from the spot as well.
For someone who publicly talks about a desire for "attacking football on the front foot, looking to win the game," the truth is that his Crystal Palace side play reactionary football based heavily on set pieces and moments on magic from Bolasie. Only four teams have scored less than their 23 goals, 47.8% of which are from set pieces and penalties (ahead of West Brom's 40% and Chelsea's 39.1%, although Aston Villa have a league-high 53.3%).
Scoring in open play
Removing November's 5-1 win against an abysmal Newcastle, Palace have only scored FOUR open play goals in 16 games. Two of these were from Bolasie, one a Cabaye tap-in from great Bolasie wing play and one was a 30-yard strike from Lee Chung-yong. Is this sustainable?
Luckily, Pardew has the Eagles well-drilled in defence and only Tottenham have conceded less goals than their 20. But teams are starting to figure out that sitting back and forcing Palace to create, rather than counter attack, is the best way to win.
Pardew has dismissed links with Charlie Austin but it's clear that a new striker is the top priority at Selhurst Park. Without one, the decline will undo such a positive start and place them in the bottom half. It would greatly jeopardise his El Clasico plans.
Crystal Palace fans - who would you like to sign this January? Let us know in the comments section below.
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