Crystal Palace’s Main Threats Tactically, as Hodgson Calls Villa “Very Intelligent”

By Dean Gregory

Crystal Palace vs Aston Villa

Last weekend Crystal Palace and Aston Villa each recorded their first win of the season, both of which came against teams expected to challenge for a top six place.

Roy Hodgson’s decision to switch up formation against Manchester United paid off for Palace. Meanwhile, The new boys at Villa are starting to settle in, and are showing signs of the potential, which excited us in preseason.

Both teams will be looking to capitalise on their first three points and build momentum, Palace start as favourites with the bookies and you can consult 888 live betting for the latest odds in the build-up to the game.

Dean Smith On Palace.

“Gary Cahill was a player discussed last January and at the end of the season. It was just one we didn’t end up going for and, instead, ended up with Ezri Konsa and Bjorn Engels.”

“It’s important to keep them performance levels high, especially going into a tough game like Crystal Palace. It’s going to be a challenge. I went to watch them at Sheffield United where they didn’t perform particularly well, but then they’ve gone to Manchester United and got a fantastic result.”

“I’ve an awful lot of respect for Roy Hodgson, someone the rest of us British coaches aspire to.

“He’s managed a number of teams, the national team, he’s got a wealth of experience and wins.

“It’ll be a tough game. It’ll be a challenge.”

“I was sat behind him and Ray Lewington (Palace coach) for the Sheffield United game and the energy and enthusiasm they still have for the game, frustration at times, you have that empathy towards them and I still hope I’m doing that at their age.”

“Wilfried Zaha is a big player for them and a big player in the league. He’s got pace, strength and skill.”

“They’ve got pace and players who can hurt you in Zaha, Ayew and Townsend.

“They’ve also got a player who the Villa fans have missed in Christian Benteke.

“They’ve got a lot of firepower, and they’ve got a lot of strength and quality in their team as well.”

Roy Hodgson on Villa

“I noticed that Dean took on a group of players he had inherited, but as his reign continued towards the latter part of last season, already his thoughts on how he wanted them to play had started to change.”

“You could see the changes in the way he wants to play and his players. We saw the changes he was bringing about, and he has now signed the likes of [Tyrone] Mings and [Kortney] Hause, who were there with him last season.

They have invested heavily, and well i think to back his judgment on how he wants the team to play, and the fact they have had a good start to the season, and are looking like a very dangerous opponent, doesn’t surprise me one bit, because I know Dean and the work he does, and because I think the club has gone about its business in a very intelligent way.”

Hodgson on Villa’s Strengths?

“We have gone through with our players what we think they are strong at but it is not my place to say that in front of the cameras, that is for Dean Smith.” 

“What I will say is that they are a good side, with good players and I think they are going to be a thorn in many a team’s side this season and I am hoping we play well enough that they are not a thorn in our side.”

League Form

Aston Villa: L L W

Crystal Palace: D L W

Memory Match

Villa 1-0 Crystal Palace – 12-01-16

Villa recorded only their second win of their worst ever season, and even that was courtesy of an own goal by Palace’s keeper. Joleon Lescott’s weak header on a chilly night went straight into Hennessey’s hands, who effectively placed it into his own net. Maybe he felt sorry for us?

Tactical Analysis

Palace started the season against Everton and Sheffield with a flat 4-4-2 with wingers cutting inside, relying on the fullbacks to provide attacking width. Christian Benteke was used as a target man to hold up the play while his partner, either Ayew or Zaha, would attempt to play off him – a classic quick-and-large strike partnership.

Against Manchester United recently, they switched to a 4-5-1, packing the midfield and bedding in deep in anticipation of being forced to absorb pressure. Almost all of their attacking play came from the left side – a staggering 57%, with Schlupp and Van Aanholt combining to wreak havoc on the counter.

With United controlling 71% of possession, Palaces chances were extremely limited. They only managed 5 shots compared to United’s 22, generating an xG (expected goals) of 0.68. Their 2 goals means they over-performed by 1.32 xG, a warning of how clinical they are capable of being.

Their defence is robust too – 25 successful tackles with a success rate of 78%, along with 26 clearances and 16 interceptions demonstrates how well-drilled they are under Hodgson. However, with their highest xG being 0.87 against Everton, they do seem to struggle with carving out quality goalscoring opportunities.

They are clearly better at absorbing pressure and hitting on the counter rather than attempting to control the game – against Sheffield they edged possession with 57%, but only managed to take 6 shots with a dismal 0.24 xG. It is difficult to imagine they will attempt to play this way again, considering the success of the 4-5-1 formation.

One to Watch

Embed from Getty Images

It’s easy to say Wilfried Zaha – on his day, he is Palace’s talisman. So far this season he has seemed out of sorts, so it’s a question of which Wilf we’ll see on the night.

The real player deserving of attention, however, is left-back Patrick Van Aanholt. Against United he was imperious, and was relied upon heavily to cause problems on that left side. Assuming he starts, he will be afforded a lot of space down Guilbert’s right flank; of course, the opposite will also be true.

He is a doubt due to picking up an injury after the Man Utd match, but if he makes an appearance, Villa should be cautious.

How it could play out

Palace’s failure to beat Colchester in the Carabao Cup earlier in the week should not be put under too much scrutiny here; after all, Premier League teams often fail to take that competition seriously. That said, the match did raise questions about their ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck.

In that match, they were clearly the better side – 67% possession with an 87% pass success rate proves that. Despite that, both sides managed 11 shots total, and 42% of the match was played in the middle third, with both final thirds each seeing 29% of the action. This shows that even though they dominated, they never stamped any real authority on the match.

These stats lend credence the idea that Roy Hodgson’s side are far more comfortable playing on the back foot. If Villa stick to their usual strategy of trying to dominate possession and bring the game to their opponent, they must be wary of this.

The key here will likely be down Palace’s left side; The Man Utd match was the biggest example, but in all three matches they have played predominantly down that flank, in spite of the fact that Zaha, their “best player”, operates on the other side.

If they stick to the same strategy they employed against United, Villa will have to be vigilant and pay attention to Van Aanholt in particular, if he plays. If Guilbert gets caught too high up the pitch, Van Aanholt could find himself in acres of space often. It’ll be down to Engels and Luiz/Nakamba to ensure that area is covered at all times.

Their squad also contains two ex-Villa strikers in Benteke and Ayew. Ayew spent last season on loan there and despite being far from prolific, he apparently performed well enough to warrant his loan move being made permanent.

As for Benteke, ever since he left Villa his form has completely dropped off a cliff, shattered against the rocks below, likely never to be seen again. With the genuine possibility that they could both lead the line together, it’s sod’s law that they will have the game of their lives against their former club.

Mings vs Benteke could be a particularly interesting battle, Benteke starts – who would come out on top?

Of course, the ever-mercurial Wilfried Zaha should never be ignored. He may not want to be a Palace player anymore, but the fact remains that he is one until at least January. Even though he has flattered to deceive so far this season, he can still cause chaos and Taylor, if he starts, may have to work hard to contain him. Whoever starts on his wing will need to be willing to put in a defensive shift.

Aston Villa Away kit discount


Palace 0-1 Villa.

Palace’s left side will be key. Here’s a prediction: Villa will be dispossessed deep into Palace’s half. They will quickly try to counter through a marauding Van Aanholt, who will lose the ball to Engels. He will then get the ball to Guilbert, who will sprint into the massive gap ahead of him, where he will swing a cross directly onto Wesley’s noggin and into the net.

Or…something like that.


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