Leicester 3-1 Palace
Crystal Palace fell to a second consecutive defeat after failing to take advantage of a promising start at the King Power Stadium.
Leicester should have taken the lead in the second minute. Steve Mandanda uncharacteristically gave the ball straight to Shinji Okazaki, but the Japan international lifted the ball wide of the Frenchman’s goal – then Crystal Palace took over.
Christian Benteke struck the woodwork with a towering header from a Martin Kelly cross. The Eagles then wasted promising positions one after the other. The visitors then seemed to fall asleep and gave the hosts a platform to build on.
Okazaki headed just over after Riyad Mahrez had embarrassed Kelly before Ahmed Musa opened his Leicester account three minutes before the break, taking advantage of some more questionable Crystal Palace defending – this time from both Kelly and Joel Ward.
The start of the second half was not better for Alan Pardew's men. Leicester boasted superior urgency, and more chances followed. The Foxes record signing, Islam Slimani, headed just wide before Okazaki doubled the lead. Musa was fouled down the flank, but Michael Oliver correctly waved play on for the advantage. Danny Drinkwater put in a wicked cross that Damien Delaney expertly cut out. Ward was caught ball watching and Okazaki beat him to the rebound and lashed the ball home.
The goal snapped the Eagles out of their slumber and Wilfried Zaha forced Kasper Schmeichel into a smart save – but a better ball from the under par James McAthur would have given the winger a far better chance than the narrow-angle that he was presented with.
Zaha continued to threaten, and he beat two on the right before finding Yohan Cabaye with a low cross. The French internationals first shot was blocked by a defender, but the ball fell straight back to his feet. Six yards out and with only Schmeichel to beat, the midfielder could only find the chest of the big Dane.
Palace can consider themselves unlucky with the third. A Jamie Vardy shot was dragged wide, and the ball had gone out for a goal kick. Musa never gave up on it and kicked the ball of Zeki Fryers for a corner. The resulting corner was cleared to the edge of the penalty area by Benteke, but Christian Fuchs was on hand to crash home a stunning volley – but on close inspection, James Tomkins show a complete lack of bravery and moves out of the way of the ball. If he takes it in the stomach, the visitors are still in the match.
Just like Musa, this was Fuchs’ first goal for the Club. Meanwhile, Okazaki hadn’t scored in 14 games – Crystal Palace well and truly keeping up their infuriating habit of giving the opposition a helping hand in getting over unwanted records.
Credit where it is due, the Palace players never gave up. Zaha went on a domineering run down the middle before sliding through a perfect pass for Benteke, but the Belgian could not find a way past Schmeichel either.
Five minutes before the end the breakthrough finally came. Zaha teased Fuchs again down the right, and this time Cabaye found the back of the net from the low centre.
From the kick-off, Benteke dispossessed Drinkwater and found Zaha down the right. The Palace number eleven put Fuchs on his backside, by the German fell straight into the path of the winger and held up the chance. The cross that followed was met by Fraizer Campbell, but the effort was deflected clear.
Mandanda kept the score to 3-1, brilliantly denying Mahrez in the final moments from close range.
Did We Play Well?
After the match, Alan Pardew said:
“We played some good stuff today. We played OK. Our final moment in the first sixty-five minutes just lets us down. We had great situations, and we didn’t capitalise, whereas they did. Their end product, their final shot, their final moment was better than ours, and that’s why they had a lead on us.
I’m not disappointed with the team today. They played a good game, but Leicester are very difficult to beat at home – they’re over a year unbeaten here [in the league].”
So, did we play well? We out-shot Leicester, with seven shots to their four on target, and saw 55% possession. To go to the defending champions, where they haven’t lost for over a year now – that has to go down as a good performance.
For 50-55 minutes of the game, we were by far the better team. The difference, as Pardew correctly pointed out, was the damage that they did in the final third when they were on top – which was partially aided by the performance of our defenders.
Better defending from Ward and Kelly, more fortune on the Benteke header that hits the bar, Jason Puncheon not missing out through injury – all of these things could have seen a very different outcome yesterday.
While I think that Cabaye had a good game, McArthur looked a bit lost alongside him and the unified press that we have been used to seeing in recent weeks was missing, placing emphasis on the importance of the missing Puncheon.
The main frustration with this defeat for me is that I don’t think that it was born out of our performance on the day, but out of failure to add defensive cover in the transfer window. Ward has been stagnating, Souare is suspect defensively and the cover is Kelly and Fryers. One is a centre back and one is a player that struggled at Doncaster only last season.
There is no questioning our midfield and attack. McArthur, Cabaye, Puncheon, Zaha, Townsend and Benteke is, without doubt, the best combinations of players that I have ever seen in a Palace front six – but this means nothing without foundation at the back. Compare those front six to the front six with that one that we had under Pulis (Dikgacoi, Jedinak, Ledley, Puncheon, Bolasie and Jerome) and there are no arguments that the current crop is streets ahead. However, the position that the Pulis team finished that season is likely to be higher than this team will achieve, if they do not address the defensive issues.
Is the answer a defensive coach of some description? Is the problem the lack of someone like Jedinak sitting in front of the back four? I am unsure long term, but short term the answer is certainly adding defensive quality in January – otherwise we will continue to concede soft goals as the defence is simply not good enough in its current guise.
Man of the Match: Wilfried Zaha
Despite losing 3-1, Wilf was not only the Palace man of the match but quite simply the best player on the field. A better pass from McArthur and a better finish from Cabaye and he could easily have ended the day with another assist and a goal to his name – but much like this match, it involves a lot of ifs and buts.
What we do know now is that Zaha has leveled his best outturn of assists in a Premier League season with two – matching 2014/15 and surpassing his one achieved last season.
He is also currently making more tackles, making more passes per match, completing passes at a better rate and dribbling more successfully than he ever has before. All the signs are there that this is finally going to be the season that Wilf kicks on to the next level.
Up Next: Liverpool
In failing to pick up results against lesser teams earlier in the season, Pardew now faces what could be a make or break period for him at Crystal Palace. With two losses in a row, fans are back to mentioning that it is only five wins (Stoke x 2, Norwich, Sunderland and Middlesbrough) in 31 games and with the run that is coming up, it could conceivably look much worse come December.
The Gaffer needs to capitalise on our good record against Liverpool in recent years, or he will end up losing all of the ground that he had gained in the five-match unbeaten run.
Come on you Palace!