Leicester 0-3 Palace
Crystal Palace produced arguably their most complete performance Premier League performance since returning to the ‘Big Time’ back in 2013. Roy Hodgson’s men dismantled Leicester City in their own backyard with a performance that was assured in possession, near faultless defensively and devastating on the counter. The hosts could have had no argument if Palace had scored six.
Christian Benteke opened the scoring in the 19th minute for his first goal in 13 matches, heading home a perfect Andros Townsend cross. He celebrated by putting his fingers in his ears, suggesting that he was refusing to listen to the hate. Before he scored, Palace could have been two goals to the good if Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Benteke himself had finished better.
Wilfried Zaha continued his red-hot form with the second goal of the game. Benteke brilliantly held of Wilfred Ndidi before slotting the Palace talisman through on goal. One step over sent Ben Chilwell into the next postcode, and the finish into the bottom corner gave Kasper Schmeichel no chance. The only thing about the goal that was not world class was the dance he did in celebration.
The travelling support were expecting a resurgent Leicester in the second half, but the pattern of the game continued as the first. Vicente Iborra had the ball in the Palace net, but he clearly fouled the excellent James Tomkins with a push before he headed home. Moments later, Ndidi received his marching orders, on his twenty-first birthday, for a disgraceful dive in the penalty area. Fair play to the referee, Martin Atkinson, for having the bottle to show the second yellow card. Although, down the other end, Marc Albrighton fouled Benteke for what should have been a stonewall penalty, but play was waved on.
Ten-man Leicester were far more spirited than the full complement was, but Palace could simply sit back and pick off Leicester at will. Only a combination of poor finishing and top-class goalkeeping kept the score to two until the last kick of the game. Bakary Sako climbed from the bench to score for the second game running, this time with the greatest tap in one could wish to see. Zaha released a galivanting Loftus-Cheek into the Leicester half, and his square pass found Sako on the edge of the box who curled the ball first time into the top corner, flying in off the upright. If Sako had picked the ball up with his hand and walked to the goal, he could not have placed it better.
The victory saw the Eagles soar to 14th place in the league, making it impossible for them to be bottom at Christmas – a position that has meant relegation almost always.
Christian Benteke finally does it
It has been coming. All that his performances have lacked in the last two games was a goal. A soon as he put the ball into the back of the net, a weight visibly lifted from his shoulders, and he was, at times, unplayable.
The goal was lucky, to an extent. His movement was expert, pulling in behind Wes Morgan and in front of Danny Simpson, but his header was straight down the middle where Schmeichel should do better – it would be his only mistake on what was otherwise a superb afternoon for the Leicester stopper.
After that point, I thought that he was going to go on and grab a hattrick, but again his finishing was a little rusty. In the second half, he and Townsend almost linked up again as the winger whipped the ball in low from the right. Benteke’s movement bamboozled Morgan yet again, but the striker opted to attempt a diving header when his feet would have been a far better option. Well, it is Benteke, so, maybe not.
His assist for the Zaha goal was the Benteke of old. Physically dominant, running at pace and getting his head up. When I say the Benteke of old, I don’t mean at Palace. I mean at Villa. Think when he dispossessed Scott Dann at Selhurst before strolling downfield and bending the ball into the bottom corner in front of the Holmesdale.
Briefly, on the topic of Scott Dann – he appears to have ousted the imposter that has been wearing his shirt for the past year and returned with a vengeance.
As for Benteke, it is a terrible shame that he picked up a yellow (rightly) that will see him suspended for the huge trip to Swansea next weekend. However, he will be fresher for the run of games over the Christmas period and hopefully, he can inspire an unexpected win over one of the big boys.
Is the tide of opinion turning on Wilfried Zaha?
A few weeks ago, pretty much any non-Palace fan would call me a lunatic for suggesting this. However, there was a change in the tide after he turned the game against Watford on its head and his performance in this one had people all over the world gushing. Man United fans were all over social media complaining about how Moyes and van Gaal ruined their chances of having such a player on their books. Journalists across the board were once again bringing up the cock up from the FA for not securing his services for England.
Much like we faced back in 2012, the secret is out. Everybody now knows what we have. I have no fear of losing him in January, but surely the biggest teams are now looking at him, and I do fear next season.
Maybe he’ll want to be our Totti. Maybe he will stay and inspire us to achieve above our station in the coming years, but what happens if Barcelona comes knocking? Am I crazy worrying about that?
His movement for his goal was insane. As soon as he saw that Benteke has held of Ndidi, his instinctively knew where the space was and moved into it in such fluid fashion the Leicester defence did not stand a chance. The step over had me feeling sorry for Chilwell and the finish was something that he simply did not have in his locker two years ago.
As for what he did to Morgan in the second half, the big centre-half should be calling it a day. Well and truly embarrassed. Of course, there was also ‘end product’ after the outrageous piece of skill, but Atkinson failed to award a deserved penalty.
Wilf has moved on to the next bracket this week – he now has to be considered as approaching world class.
I am never shy about laying into a referee when they have a mare, so I should praise the referee when he has a good game. Spotting the push for the disallowed goal and the dive was astute, having the cojones to disallow the goal and send Ndidi off was a welcome surprise. Of course, we should have had a penalty, but nobody is perfect.
Man of the Match: James McArthur
Zaha would be the popular for choice for MOTM and, let’s face it, he probably was. BUT, James McArthur (and Yohan next to him) were tireless and dominant in the middle of the park. The Scot was buzzing all over the midfield and stopping everything Leicester had to offer at the source and drove Palace forward every time that he had an opportunity.
Roy Hodgson has a tough choice to make next weekend when Luka Milivojevic is available for selection again.
Giving it to an individual, however, feels a little unfair. Everyone in a Palace shirt had a good game. I cannot single out one person that played poorly. Kelly and Schlupp defended Gray and Mahrez well. Tomkins had Vardy in their pocket. Loftus-Cheek was direct and consistently dangerous. Townsend put countless dangerous balls into the area. Sako came on and didn’t give them a minute’s rest before scoring. It was just a great day all around.
Speroni 100 Clean Sheets
Julian didn’t have much to do in this game, barring one solid save from a Riyad Mahrez shot. In doing so, however, he pulled level with Nigel Martyn on 111 clean sheets – the most ever from a Palace goalkeeper. It was his 100th in the league if you count the Play-Offs as cup competition. It is just a terrible shame that Pulis, Warnock and Pardew robbed him of another 70+ appearances.
Up Next: Swansea Away
Another big game. With Arsenal and Man City following, we need to end this run of playing against so-called weaker opposition to end with another three points. Surely (don’t kill me) we have too much for them at the moment?
Come on you Palace!