Jasmine Baba analyses the Eagles’ performance so far this season, and considers their prospects for the coming weeks.
With the usual “Top Six” in disarray, there are many “zero to hero” Premier League clubs at the moment. But of all teams that currently occupy these spots, the most surprising story is Crystal Palace. At sixth place in the Premier League, Palace could be fourth if it wasn’t for their neutral goal difference, as they are level on points with Chelsea and Leicester.
This is a surprising state of affairs; of all the teams exceeding expectations, Palace had been the favourites for relegation. Until around a month ago, Roy Hodgson was also the name rumoured to be one of the first managers to leave his club. Will the Eagles continue flying high, or will they plummet back to earth soon enough?
Despite flying high, their xG is still ridiculously low
If someone told me at the start of the season that Palace would have fewer defeats than Tottenham come October, I would’ve laughed at them. But that’s exactly where they are.
Only conceding eight goals in their first eight games has put them in the solid position they now occupy. If you consider that half of those were from the Spurs match, where their opponents were extra clinical (Tottenham had an xG of 1.08 so the 4-0 was very flattering for them), their defence looks even better.
Palace have coped well defensively after losing Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United, and are conceding fewer shots so far compared to last season. However, their attack is still astonishingly poor: of the eight goals they’ve scored so far, only four have come from open play, which was a common theme last year too.
If you compare the expected goals to the score in Palace’s opening fixtures, most of them are a fair depiction of the match – apart from the 2-1 away win against Manchester United. In that match Palace somehow scored two goals despite having a much worse xG (2.24 v 0.68), which is extremely lucky.
In the Tottenham match, they were unlucky to get battered (but still deserved to lose). In their combined draws and losses (against Everton, Sheffield United, Tottenham, Wolves), they’ve only averaged 0.67 expected goals, which is worrying.
However, Palace’s attack has been re-energised recently, with the last three matches posting xGs of 0.98 (H), 1.80 (H) and 2.07 (A), winning the latter two and drawing the former. It could be the sign of something clicking.
Home away from home
No matter how badly Palace may play at times, it’s commendable that they are the team with the highest number of points won away from home after Manchester City and Liverpool (25, 33, and 30 respectively).
This must be matched by some solid home form after the international break, when Palace face the defending champions who are still looking for stability as they trail eight points behind league leaders Liverpool.
Despite Palace’s goal woes when attacking, they have only conceded one goal at Selhurst Park so far this season. They may not win against Man City, but given the defending champions’ shaky recent form, they’ll certainly be able to put up a fight.
Palace need to sustain this sort of form until January, when they can bolster their attack and supporting midfield in the winter transfer window. With summer business costing them just under £5 million, Hodgson should be backed by the board and be in an even stronger position in the new year.
Follow Jasmine on Twitter @_BabsJ