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Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha loves life with Patrick Vieira as the Eagles learn to keep the ball

Wilfried Zaha believes that Crystal Palace’s extraordinary transformation under new coach Patrick Vieira is finally unlocking the Eagles’ attacking talent.

The Ivory Coast international scored the first goal in Palace’s impressive 2-0 win over Manchester City in the weekend’s standout result, making him the club’s first player to score 50 times in the top flight.

The victory at Etihad may have been ‘smash and grab’ – Vieira acknowledged that Palace needed a bit of luck to cross the line – but Zaha has rightly highlighted an incredible shift in his team’s approach to the game, and the ball, especially.

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha believes the team's new style will unlock players' potential

Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha believes the team’s new style will unlock players’ potential

Where Palace sat deeply and held its ground under former manager Roy Hodgson, they have grown into an exciting, high-energy, possession-based team in the space of just four months.

“The difference you see is that we keep the ball from behind,” Zaha told the BBC. “We actually keep the ball around the field.”

The benefits of the new approach may not yet be seen in the Premier League table, where Palace is one point worse than at the same time last season, but the changes are dramatic and real.

The statistics support Zaha’s analysis that Palace’s philosophy has been reversed. This season everything revolves around the ball, starting with goalkeeper Vicente Guaita. The approach is also starting to pay off at the higher end of the field.

“We have had a threat in the future …” added Zaha. ‘[But now] we seize our opportunities. I feel like we are now exploiting the talent that we have up front and across the field. ‘

Last season, 59 percent of the passes made by Guaita were thrown over 40 yards, but this season he has passed a lot from the goalkeeper only 35 percent of the time.

Palace coach Patrick Vieira has renewed his team's style of play in just four months

Palace coach Patrick Vieira has renewed his team's style of play in just four months

Palace coach Patrick Vieira has renewed his team’s style of play in just four months

Former boss Roy Hodgson kept Palace in the Premier League despite limited funding

Former boss Roy Hodgson kept Palace in the Premier League despite limited funding

Former boss Roy Hodgson kept Palace in the Premier League despite limited funding

Crystal Palace transformation
Statistics 2020-21 season Season 2021-22
Shots per game 9.2 10.9
Passes per game 370 465
Passing precision 76% 82%
Possession 40% fifty%
xG per game 0.9 1.2
Shots faced per game 14.2 12.2
xG against per game 1.6 1.1
% of passes thrown by goalkeeper * 59% 35%
Source: BBC / * FBREF

In fact, the Spaniard threw more goal kicks that ended within his own area (33) in the first seven games than in the entire previous season (31).

And once the ball is in play, Palace is much more likely, as Zaha suggests, to hold on to it. The team’s possession statistics have soared from around 40 to 50 percent and the number of passes has increased from 370 to 465 per game.

This has helped Zaha to score three goals this season, but the team as a whole is benefiting. The shots per game have increased and the expected goals have increased from 0.9 to 1.2 and Palace has scored 13.

It is a great achievement for Vieira to review the philosophy of the team in a preseason. The former Arsenal captain just arrived at Selhurst Park on July 4.

However, the transformation has been aided by the opportunity to redevelop the team with the addition of new talent and youthful energy.

Summer transfer activity has contributed to a two-year reduction in the median age of Palace’s starting lineup, compared to last season, and has clearly added more confidence to the ball.

Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita is making better use of the ball with Vieira this season

Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita is making better use of the ball with Vieira this season

Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita is making better use of the ball with Vieira this season

Crystal Palace signed six new players in the summer
Summer signature From Transfer fee
Joachim Andersen, 25 years old Lyon £ 17 million
Odsonne Edouard, 23 years old Celtic £ 15 million
Marc Guehi, 21 years old Chelsea £ 18 million
Will Hughes, 26 Watford £ 10 million
Michael Olise, 19 years old Read £ 8 million
Conor Gallagher, 21 Chelsea LOAN

Six players entered at a combined cost of £ 68 million.

It is worth noting that Palace spent £ 20 million more in the summer than in the previous seven transfer windows combined, demonstrating the excellent job Hodgson did to keep the club in the top flight with limited resources during his four years at Selhurst. Park.

However, the additions have been clever and almost all of them have had an impact.

The French pair, 23-year-old forward Odsonne Edouard and 19-year-old winger Michael Olise, have goals and assists and are pushing to start, while irrepressible midfielder Conor Gallagher, 21, on loan from Chelsea, has energized the Palace up front, with and without the ball, not to mention the three goals.

New guys Conor Gallagher (right) and Marc Guehi have helped transform Palace's style of play

New guys Conor Gallagher (right) and Marc Guehi have helped transform Palace's style of play

New guys Conor Gallagher (right) and Marc Guehi have helped transform Palace’s style of play

Meanwhile, Danish international Joachim Andersen’s new center-back couple, 25, and Chelsea academy product Marc Guehi, 21, have shown they are brave enough to take responsibility in possession and help to reduce expected goals against from 1.6 to 1.1. per game this season.

And the backs, the rejuvenated Joel Ward, 32, and Tyrick Mitchell, 22, who has been through the Brentford and Palace academies, complete a quiet four.

It’s no wonder that Palace’s remarkable progress is starting to attract attention.

MOTD expert Gary Lineker has described them as a “completely different proposition” this season and Ian Wright praised his former club after the success at the Etihad.

Crystal Palace have conceded goals in the closing minutes, including a 95th minute draw against Arsenal

Crystal Palace have conceded goals in the closing minutes, including a 95th minute draw against Arsenal

Crystal Palace have conceded goals in the closing minutes, including a 95th minute draw against Arsenal

Under roy [Hodgson] it was a little more stoic, “Wright said. “Much more defensive, but Patrick Vieira has come in and not only has he brought in Andersen and Guehi, who can play, but Joel Ward is having an incredible season.” [Tyrick] Mitchell is having an amazing season and Conor Gallagher is there too. ‘

The result at City has highlighted the progress with Vieira, but it was already evident in a series of impressive performances, which should have yielded more than the 12 points Palace has accumulated so far.

On Vieira’s return to Arsenal, his team produced a controlled performance before a loss of concentration in the 95th minute allowed Alexandre Lacazette to draw a late draw for the Gunners in a 2-2 draw.

They also conceded in the 95th minute against arch rival Brighton at Selhurst Park, had to settle for a 1-1 draw and failed to convert 75 percent possession against Newcastle into three points.

On three occasions, the Eagles have enjoyed more than 60 percent possession, including Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-0 run in September.

After four draws and a win in the last five, the Eagles’ next four top flight games are against Wolves, Burnley, Aston Villa and Leeds United. Vieira will expect your new charges to be in the upper half of the table.

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