Talking Tactics

Crystal Palace's defence must go back to basics against Chelsea

By Adrian Clarke 9 Feb 2024
Hodgson, Pochettino

Adrian Clarke says Eagles must restore physicality and cut out unforced errors in Monday's match

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Match analysis - Crystal Palace v Chelsea

Roy Hodgson’s Palace have always been synonymous with solid organisation and resilient defending, but those two facets of their game has fallen away in recent weeks.

Palace have not been as physically robust as usual, and it has cost them several goals. A desire to press higher up the pitch has also been their undoing at times.

Recent opponents have been able to play through them and break against an exposed back four more often than we are used to seeing in matches involving the Eagles.

To gain a morale-boosting victory against Chelsea at Selhurst Park, their players must go back to basics and improve on the fundamentals that Hodgson’s side is built upon.

Losing too many duels

Palace's total of 1,279 duels won is the best in the Premier League this season, but they have been off the pace in this department across their first three matches of 2024.

They are a team built around physicality, yet they won fewer than 50 per cent of their duels against Arsenal, Sheffield United, and Brighton & Hove Albion.

Indeed, they only came out on top in 38.8 per cent of their 50/50s in their 4-1 loss at Brighton last weekend.

Palace's MW21-23 duel success rate
Opponent Palace duel success
Arsenal 48.5%
Sheff Utd 46.9%
Brighton 38.8%
Season ave. 51.5%

This downturn can be seen in some of the goals they have conceded.

Arsenal’s Gabriel scored identikit efforts from corners in a 5-0 win, escaping his marker Chris Richards too easily to score the opener in that rout, as indicated below.

Gabriel

Against Brighton, as shown below, Lewis Dunk comfortably outjumped Joachim Andersen to score from a simple 4v4 setup from an inswinging corner.

Dunk

On both occasions the opponent was significantly more determined in their attempts to get to the ball first.

Worryingly, the Eagles won only 34.6 per cent of their aerial duels across their last two Premier League matches.

They must be better in this area against Chelsea.

Punished on turnovers

Under Hodgson’s care Palace’s game management is usually excellent, but they have offered up an uncharacteristic number of gifts of late.

Eberechi Eze lost the ball cheaply at Emirates Stadium, and his side were punished when Eddie Nketiah, who had robbed the Eagles star, slipped in Gabriel Martinelli to score.

Similar scenarios unfolded against Sheff Utd and Brighton too.

Below, Eze (circled) holds onto the ball too long and is tackled. From the transition the Blades broke forward, before James McAtee applied the finish.

Blades

Debutant Adam Wharton also lost the ball in a poor area after receiving a pass from his centre-back at Brighton.

Surrounded by three players, the former Blackburn Rovers youngster was caught in possession, and within seconds Facundo Buonanotte had capitalised to score the Seagulls' third goal.

Seagulls
Higher line has been an issue

The other recurring defensive problem for Palace recently is how they have been sliced open with passes played in behind their back four.

The key to claiming a superb point in December's 2-2 draw at Manchester City was their well-organised low block, a tactic Palace have made work for them many times, but that approach has been less prevalent in the fixtures since.

Trying to be more proactive, Hodgson’s men have attempted to press with greater frequency, squeezing the space in more advanced areas.

Martinelli scored twice for Arsenal from through-balls played in between the right-back and central-defender, and in their home wins against Brentford and Sheff Utd, we saw Palace leak goals in a similar manner.

Below you see Andersen react to a press inside the opposition half by getting tight to Mathias Jensen, but the Dane’s flick to Mads Roerslev led to Keane Lewis-Potter scoring from the cross.

Press1

Early in the 3-2 home win over Sheff Utd the Eagles also conceded after failing to execute a successful press.

As shown below they squeezed up to the halfway line, but the Blades played through the press to set up a switch of play to Ben Brereton Diaz, who ran through and scored.

Press2
Palace’s to-do list

It will be interesting to see if Hodgson opts to press early on against Chelsea, as his side have fallen behind in the opening 15 minutes in each of their last five Premier League matches.

A more reserved approach could be in order until they settle into the encounter.

More physicality in the duels, greater decisiveness in the air, and better decision-making in possession are other areas that need to be addressed if Palace are to be competitive against their London rivals.

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