I didn’t have many fingernails left at the full-time whistle on Sunday, but was quite relieved to see us come away with a point in a game we could have very easily lost on another day.
After seeing it live and watching it back since then (yes I’m sad aren’t I), I thought I’d share 10 thoughts and observations from what I made of it all after being keen enough to watch it twice:
1. What’s happened to Matt Ritchie’s delivery?
I couldn’t be overly critical of him from this one as his energy and persistence helped us out defensively against Zaha/Van Aanholt, but I watched so many of his crosses hit the first man or go sailing over. He lacks pace so we rely on him to deliver technically – and this is something he did with ease on a regular basis last season. Hopefully this improves given how key it will be to feeding Slimani.
2. Diame’s like a new player
A few months ago he was struggling to get around the pitch, make 5 yard passes or even control the ball. Now he’s pinging it about like an on-song Shelvey, tackling like a in-form Tiote and seems to be everywhere in the middle of the park. A deserved goal, but in the bigger picture it’s great to see him using his power, playing with confidence and getting around the pitch much better. He looks fitter, stronger and sharper in everything he does at the minute. Long may it last!
3. Darlow worries me
He did make some crucial saves, so his overall contribution was largely positive, but his hesitancy on crosses, his lack of communication (noticed this twice with Lascelles and Dummett taking charge after he failed to shout) and his woeful kicking is a worry going forward. One minute he’s the MOTM (Stoke away), but the next he’s capable of costing us (Everton home) and that concerns me when the slightest error could be so so costly at this stage.
4. Dummett’s return a blessing
I got bashed by a few anti-Dummett fans when saying this on Twitter, but the lad is our best left-back for me and a solid defender. He’s put in several strong displays since returning and despite his limitations going forward, we’re better defensively when he’s around. He kept Townsend quiet and covered well for the CB’s superbly on occasion.
5. Shelvey – ran it first half, disappeared in the second
When I watched the game back I noticed how often he was picking it up for us and instigating attacks. This was all when we had possession and a foothold in the game, but when the tables turned in the second half I saw so little from him. He became wasteful, was slow to get back and didn’t do enough to protect the back 4. Is this to do with fitness or is he simply just one of those players whose so much better with the ball then without? I’d guess the latter.
6. Kenedy looks a class act
I expected him to be raw, naive and quite frustrating but he’s been anything but so far. He looked a cut above the rest at times and gives us something different down the left – with Dummett’s reliable defensive work giving him some freedom to do damage. Could and should have scored and wasted a big chance in the 2nd to put Perez in, but I’m very pleased with him so far.
7. Where’s Jacob Murphy? He deserves minutes over Atsu on current form
Atsu did little when he came on and was poor all night against Burnley, yet we have Jacob Murphy (a player nominated for January POTM) sitting on the bench. Rafa will be watching them in training and will know their fitness levels and frame of mind, but I’m disappointed that he’s barely been used in the last two games. After some positive performances and a goal and an assist in away games at City and Stoke, I had hoped Rafa would give him a run of games.
8. Gayle and Perez didn’t offer nearly enough
In their defence, there was too many hopeful long balls put up to them at times in the second half, but their touch was often off, they were too easily dispossessed and they were giving the Palace CB’s an easy time of it. Gayle barely got a kick, whilst Perez was so wasteful and soft in the second half despite two decent efforts on goal and a superb through ball to Kenedy in the first half.
9. Yedlin just about survived the Zaha onslaught
Wilfried Zaha is one of the best players outside the top 6 and is a player few full-backs can handle on his day, however I thought DeAndre Yedlin coped quite well in the circumstances. I’ve been critical of his ability to actually defend of late, however he competed well with him and wasn’t being beaten at ease like so many are when he squares you up down that left wing.
10. That’s a game we would’ve lost in previous relegation seasons
And finally, although the second half was hard to watch, the commitment and fight in the team was there to see – and that’s a big plus moving forward. Defenders throwing their bodies on the line on countless occasions to block goal bound shots and preserve our point. It’ll take more than effort to stay up this season, but this sort of attitude and spirit is something we’ve not always had in previous relegation scraps.
Got anything you want to get off your chest from Sunday’s game? Share your views in the comments below!