Football News

“A contender for signing of the season?” – Five things learned as Palace edge bitter rivals Brighton

By Ollie Thomas

Published: 14:52, 29 February 2020

Jordan Ayew’s 70th minute strike was the difference as Crystal Palace won at the Amex Stadium for the first time in Premier League history.

Despite mustering a whopping 24 shots, Brighton couldn’t find a way through a resolute Palace back five as their wait for a league win in 2020 goes on. But what did we learn from the entertaining clash on the coast?

1. Brighton need to use their height better

Lewis Dunk, Dan Burn and Adam Webster are all massive: 6ft 3, 6ft 5 and 6ft 2 respectively. So why did Palace look such a threat from set-pieces? Scott Dann, Christian Benteke and Gary Cahill are all decent in the air but they won nearly every header from Palace free-kicks and corners.

Benteke and Cahill both missed golden opportunities from corners after beating one of the aforementioned defenders from the initial cross. The deliveries from James McCarthy and Patrick van Aanholt were not exactly De Bruyne-esque: for the most part, they just stood the ball up and invited someone to attack it. Palace did, Brighton didn’t.

Granted, at the other end, only Neil Maupay’s face denied Lewis Dunk a memorable opener against the Seagulls’ bitter rivals. However, even so, one can’t help but think that with those defenders and Glenn Murray (when he plays) in the box from set-plays, they should relish every chance to get the ball into the box. On Saturday, however, they didn’t do enough.

2. Vicente Guaita is the Premier League’s best-kept secret

Why does no one talk about this man more?

Statistically, Guaita has been one of (if not the) best goalkeeper in the league this season. It’s often Lukasz Fabianski and Dean Henderson who get the plaudits as the top shot-stoppers outside the ‘Big Six’ but the ex-Getafe man has to be in that conversation.

He made eight saves today – on only six occasions this season has a goalkeeper made more in a game. Granted, they weren’t the most testing, but he dealt with everything like a top-level goalkeeper.

No one seems to know just how good the Spaniard is. Roy Hodgson will be hoping things stay that way.

3. Christian Benteke can do everything… apart from score

Okay, he missed a couple of great chances throughout the 90 minutes but, apart from that, he was brilliant.

Firstly, his aerial prowess is nearly unrivalled in the league. How a man who already stands at 6ft 2 is able to leap another half a foot (at least) up in the air is quite remarkable and means that, regardless of his confidence, he offers something.

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But we saw today that he’s so much more than just a battering ram. He showed off some delightful touches throughout and his link-up play makes Palace a far better team – that fact is indisputable. No one made more key passes (2) than the Belgian and his assist for Ayew was fantastic. He drove at the Brighton defence and the reverse pass to his strike partner was delicious.

He gets a lot of stick in the media for his woeful scoring record but Palace fans will tell you that Benteke still offers a lot to Roy Hodgson. Once again today, he showed that – at the perfect time.

4. Gary Cahill still has it

When Gary Cahill left Chelsea, many assumed that his career at the top level was over.

However, he has been absolutely magnificent since he reunited with former England boss at Selhurst Park, adding some much-needed leadership to a Palace side that often lacks it when he doesn’t play.

He was colossal at the back with make-shift partner Scott Dann (who deserves huge credit for his performance), as the pair made a whopping 11 clearances between them. They dealt with a barrage of Brighton crosses with relative ease and denied the Seagulls any clear sight of goal as the minutes ticked on.

Is Cahill a contender for signing of the season? On a free, we think so.

5. These two rivals are polar opposites

Brighton and Graham Potter have received a lot of praise this season for the style of football they play. They were the better footballing team today and, at Selhurst Park in December, they played Palace off the pitch.

Yet they fall into the Norwich category of teams that play some lovely stuff but still find themselves down the bottom. Despite being notably more pleasing on the eye, they haven’t really progressed in terms of their league position last season. In fact, they are two points worse off than they were at the same stage of 2018/19, with a number of tricky games still play.

Palace, on the other hand, are nothing short of terrible to watch at times but they have their best ever Premier League’s points total at this stage and have a top-half finish well within their sights. It was a memorable away win for the Eagles, who have struggled against their rivals in recent meetings.

Winning ugly is far better than not winning at all.

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