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Talking Tactics

Finishing touch can lift Crystal Palace

Adrian Clarke 29 Jun 2018
Watford v Crystal Palace - Wilfried Zaha

Adrian Clarke on one area Roy Hodgson's Eagles will look to address in 2018/19: missing big opportunities

Adrian Clarke looks at where clubs can improve for the 2018/19 season.

Crystal Palace

Roy Hodgson pulled off a brilliant recovery job with Crystal Palace last season. In finishing 11th they became the first team in Premier League history to lose their first seven matches and avoid relegation.

But their turnaround could have been even better had they found a solution to their biggest issue: the failure to finish gilt-edged opportunities inside the box.

Taking their chances

Palace had no problems creating chances but putting them away was more of a challenge.

Outside the teams who finished in the top six, Hodgson's side were the most wasteful Premier League team for big chances.

These are defined as chances a player is expected to score. Palace missed 54 of them.

That was 33 per cent worse than the next-closest team from outside the top six, Southampton.

Big chances in 2017/18
Total big chances Big chances missed
MCI 129 MCI 63
LIV 109 LIV 61
ARS 98 ARS 57
TOT 95 CRY 54
CRY 83 TOT 49
MUN 78 CHE 48
CHE 75 MUN 42
LEI 65 SOU 37
Makeshift couple

While the makeshift forward pairing of Wilfried Zaha (pictured top) and Andros Townsend worked well at fashioning chances, this combination of two wingers affected the team's finishing ability.

Neither player is a natural goalscorer and many of the Eagles' misses were close-range headers placed off target.

Palace had 78 headed shots last season, the joint-third most in the league. But they scored from only four of them. Relegated Swansea City were the only side to score fewer, with three. 

Wasteful Palace 
2017/18 Total PL rank
Headed shots 78 3=
Headed shots off target 54 2
Headed goals 4 18=
Shots in box off target 119 5
What’s the remedy?

He can be a terrific Premier League striker on his day, but a dip in form from Christian Benteke had an impact on Palace.

The 27-year-old was unable to replicate his past prolific form from crosses into the area.

Benteke missed 20 big chances last season, a tally surpassed only by Mohamed Salah, who missed 23 but had 84 more shots than the Belgian.

The Palace striker finished the season with three goals from 31 appearances. His conversion rate of six per cent was significantly down on his ratio of 17 per cent and 20 per cent in the past two campaigns.

Players missing most in 2017/18
Player Club Big chances total Big chances missed
Salah LIV 43 23
 Benteke CRY 23 20
Kane TOT 39 18
Morata CHE 27 17
Helping Zaha

Hodgson will need to ease the burden on Zaha. 

Palace failed to win any of their 10 matches last season when he was not in the starting line-up. 

When Zaha was, their record stood at W11 D11 L6, picking up an average of 1.57 points per match.

That average across the entire season would have given Palace 59 points, enough for seventh place and European qualification. 

Zaha scored nine PL goals with an impressive 20 per cent conversion rate. This contrasts with Townsend, whose rate was five per cent, while January signing Alexander Sorloth is still seeking his first Palace goal.

If Benteke can rediscover his scoring touch and Palace create the same quality of chances, they should dramatically improve their goal tally in 2018/19 and avoid a repeat of last season's early fright.

Also in this series

Part 2: Hard work can fix Brighton's set-piece woes
Part 3: New approach can revive Burnley's home form
Part 4: Pogba and Sanchez key to United hitting top gear
Part 5: Huddersfield must aim high to progress
Part 6: Injection of pace could boost Watford's away form
Part 7: Ki to get Newcastle back in control
Part 8: Improving wing play the priority for Spurs
Part 9: Midfield pair can boost Hughes' resurgence
Part 10: Improvement in the air can lift Liverpool

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