With an average age of 30 years 101 days, Crystal Palace’s starting XI against Everton was their oldest for a Premier League game
Without a win in 2020 and possessing the worst goalscoring record in the Premier League, these are tough times for Crystal Palace.
The Eagles were beaten 3-1 at Everton on Saturday – a third successive defeat for Roy Hodgson’s side.
The loss leaves them six points above the relegation zone, but that gap could become smaller once their rivals have played their game in hand.
What is going wrong at Crystal Palace and is Hodgson the man to turn things around?
What’s the problem?
At one stage this season, Palace were up there with Sheffield United in posing a surprise threat towards the top end of the table. They were fifth as recently as early December, but a run of one victory in their past 11 games leaves them looking nervously over their shoulder.
Their inability to threaten in the final third has played a significant role in that dramatic drop-off in form. The Eagles have managed just 23 goals in 26 games – the joint worst record in the Premier League alongside Watford.
Jordan Ayew – their top scorer with six – averages a goal every 354 minutes, while Wilfried Zaha has only three in the league after scoring 10 last term.
So why this shortage of goals? Well, it cannot help that they simply do not shoot enough. Their tally of 247 efforts is the joint fewest in the top flight – level with Newcastle and Sheffield United having played a game more – and they also got the joint fewest on target – 79, level with Sheffield United.
Only once in their past 20 league outings have they managed more than four attempts on target.
The Blades are succeeding despite their lack of shots because they have been able to build from a solid base. Chris Wilder’s side have kept nine clean sheets in 2019-20 and only runaway leaders Liverpool have conceded fewer than their 23 goals.
While Palace’s defence has not been disastrous, they are struggling badly to shut opponents out.
Hodgson is renowned for his ability to make his teams tough to beat and the Eagles have generally been good at keeping things tight – only five sides in the division have conceded fewer than their 32 goals this season.
However, they are now without a clean sheet in their past 10 Premier League games, which is the worst run of any team.
Hodgson – hands tied or part of the problem?
The odds of Hodgson becoming the next manager to leave his position plummeted from 33-1 to 2-1 with some bookmakers last week.
That may have been in response to the club’s poor form, but it could also have been down to a possible contract stand-off between Palace and the former England boss.
The 72-year-old’s deal expires in the summer and talks over an extension have been ongoing for some time.
However, Hodgson is reportedly seeking assurances funds will be in place to overhaul his squad in the summer.
“Signing players is not an easy thing to do,” he said recently. “Going out and throwing a lot of money around is an easy thing to do, and we have got lots of examples of it.
“But I think we know, as a football club, that we need to make more inroads into improving our squad, rejuvenating our squad, and bringing in some fresh faces.”
Only Turkey international Cenk Tosun was added to Hodgson’s attacking options in January but the on-loan Everton striker is injured.
In Zaha, Ayew and Christian Benteke, Palace have a strong mix of pacy, mobile and physical frontmen. That trio should have more than enough about them to worry most teams.
However, Hodgson’s often cautious approach to games can leave them struggling for the service they require.
“The worrying thing is they don’t score goals,” former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson told Final Score.
“The way they set up is probably the way to go with the players they’ve got. Roy’s team try to protect what they’ve got and then nick goals. He does well with what he’s got there, but if you’re not scoring you’re not going to win games. It’s obvious but it’s true.”
Palace defeat at Everton ‘cruel’ – Hodgson
Hope from within in the shape of Benteke?
It is not all doom and gloom and there were reasons for Palace optimism after the Everton game, despite the scoreline.
For large parts of the Goodison Park encounter, Hodgson’s side played well and were perhaps worthy of a point, particularly after going close on a number of occasions in a strong start to the second half.
Much-maligned striker Benteke also got his first goal of the season.
It ended a run of of 17 games and 765 minutes without scoring in the Premier League and it was clear to see the goal restored some missing confidence, with the Belgian looking lively for the remainder of the game. Only a wonder save by Jordan Pickford denied him a second goal.
“He’s beginning to be the type of centre-forward we need,” said Hodgson.
“He was lively, held the ball up well and got his head on a few balls. That was a positive for us.”
What do the fans think?
Christian Benteke ended a run of 17 games and 765 minutes without scoring in the Premier League
Among the supporters, there are plenty of views for and against sticking with Hodgson for the rest of the season and beyond. However, a common thread runs through both perspectives – that the manager has not been backed enough.
“I am not on his side really and that is only because I don’t think the board are either,” Palace season-ticket holder Johnny Gribbin told BBC Sport before Saturday’s loss. “He hasn’t been backed at all like [former Eagles boss] Sam Allardyce was.
“The squad he put out against Everton was the same again. The Christmas period is the busiest time of the year and he has not changed it. The players are tired after an hour.
“The home games are so boring at the moment.”
Kieran Cooke, another fan who had made the trip to Goodison Park, said: “He is the man to take us forward, he just hasn’t got the backing.
“It is not entirely his fault but I think his negative style of play does affect us at times. I think another year-long contract for him would be suitable.
“If he is backed in the summer we will be fine next season.”
Hodgson himself says he has seen enough to indicate that a first win of the year is not far away.
“The solution is to play like we did for large periods today,” he said.
“I don’t fear the performances as such. The way we’ve played in the past couple of games has been sufficient to give me hope and belief that we’ll play well enough to get back on a winning track.”