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Talking Tactics

Palace's unsung heroes key to Man City test

Adrian Clarke 16 Oct 2019
Jordan Ayew, Joel Ward, Crystal Palace

Adrian Clarke says transformation of Ayew, Ward and Kelly from substitutes to starters should breed confidence against champions

Adrian Clarke is looking at key tactical talking points ahead of Matchweek 9. 

The secret to Crystal Palace’s success this season has been collective consistency and discipline.

Those attributes will be put to the test when Manchester City, the Premier League's highest scorers, with 27 goals, visit Selhurst Park.

Palace have been solid and rarely pulled out of position within their usual 4-5-1 formation in 2019/20.

Wilfried Zaha and Gary Cahill may take the plaudits, but a trio of team-mates has helped transform the team and propel Roy Hodgson's men to sixth in the table.

Resurgent trio

Right-back Joel Ward has been ever-present in their flying start.

Last season the 29-year-old lost his place to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, but since the local lad left for Manchester United, Ward has excelled.

Apart from a tricky match at Tottenham Hotspur and a late error in the 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Ward has been superb in every other contest.

Defending with intelligence and spirit, Ward has also struck up a terrific rapport with Zaha, providing him with almost 10 passes per match.

Ward in 2019/20
  Per 90min Palace rank*
Forward passes 19.6  1
Tackles 2.9  1
Interceptions 2.3 1

*Minimum 300min played

Fellow defender Martin Kelly has also emerged as highly dependable at centre-back.

Last season Kelly was third or fourth-choice, but, like Ward, he has quickly forged a strong understanding with a team-mate.

Kelly has formed a powerful partnership with Cahill, laying the foundations for gritty away victories at Old Trafford and West Ham United.

And in three home matches so far, Palace are yet to concede a goal each time the composed 29-year-old has started.

Palace's impressive centre-backs 
2019/20 Kelly Cahill
Mins 529 540
Clearances 31 31
Blocks 6 6
Aerial duels won 13 14
Fouls conceded 4 3
Clean sheets 3 2

Credit should also go to Jordan Ayew, who has delivered crucial goals.

The Ghanaian only scored once on loan spell from Swansea City last season, but since signing a permanent deal he has been a striker reborn.

Without his goals against Man Utd, Aston Villa and West Ham, Palace would have six fewer points.

Only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has won more for his side this season, with nine points.

Ayew's workrate and link-up play are undeniable, but his finishing has been ruthless.

Missing the target only once from nine attempts, his conversion rate has dramatically improved.

Ayew's eye for goal
  2018/19 2019/20
Total shots 17 9
Shots on target 3 8
Goals scored 1 3
Conv. rate % 5.9 33.3
Mins/goal 1,187 181.3

Ayew's eye for goal combined with a solid defensive display from Kelly and Ward will be key against Man City.

Apart from a nightmare first half at Spurs when they conceded four times, Palace have let in only four goals in 675 minutes this season.

Liverpool and Chelsea are the only two teams to have faced fewer shots on target in 2019/20.

It is an outstanding record that should give Palace the belief that they can repel the attacking threat posed by Pep Guardiola's side.

Least shots on target faced
Liverpool 19
Chelsea 26
Crystal Palace 27
Leicester City 28
Team Total

It will not be easy for Palace to maintain their unbeaten home record this weekend, but as a team they have already shown courage and character.

Proving people wrong as individuals, and collectively as a team, the Eagles are in good shape and have every right to feel confident.

Also in the series

Part 1: Kean up top can shake up Everton attack
Part 2: Imposing Maguire can frustrate Liverpool
Part 4: Blades' bold approach can pay off against Arsenal

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