Football Features

Burnley 0-2 Crystal Palace: Zaha strengthens iron grip on dribble king crown

By Mohamed Moallim

Wilfried Zaha dribble king

Published: 20:32, 30 November 2019

Crystal Palace ran out 2-0 winners at Burnley on Saturday to record only a third win away from home this season.

Roy Hodgson’s men, who previously left West Ham and Manchester United with all three points, saw Wilfried Zaha and Jeffrey Schlupp get on the scoresheet.

But it was the individual performance of Zaha that once again caught the eye. If the 27-year-old Ivorian winger had got his way in the summer he wouldn’t be here which must have Palace fans wondering how their side would be faring this term.

On his day Zaha is near unplayable, so you can understand why the former Man Utd winger feels he deserves another chance to play for a Champions League club. For a while it seemed Arsenal – who are not playing in Europe’s premier club competition – was to be his new stomping ground, but no such pursuit materialised and they opted to bring in Nicolas Pepe from Lille.

Before the now-departed Unai Emery withdrew Pepe from the firing line, he was starting to make a real name for himself in England, notably when it came to effortlessly beating those who came directly up against him.

However, there was someone matching him stride for stride and even further ahead, that was the aforementioned Zaha, who made Turf Moor  his very own playground. The mercurial Palace forward attempted 11 take-ons, not a season high, that record nonetheless belongs to him (16 v Wolves).

If we break down Saturday’s contribution even further, Zaha produced six successful take-ons against Burnley, which meant for the fourth time across six away games this season he registered five or more in a single Premier League game.

This is double the next best (two games), a group that features nine players consisting of Emiliano Buendía, Diego Jota, Mateo Kovacic, Manuel Lanzini, James Maddison, John McGinn, Davy Pröpper, Pepe and Allan Saint-Maximin.

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Zaha’s fifth attempted take-on saw him become the first player in England’s top division this season to break the 50 barrier on the road. To date, he’s the only individual to also go past a half-century at home, next time he takes to the field at Selhurst Park against Bournemouth on December he’ll be looking to add to his 52 and you won’t bet against him scoring, though, is a different story altogether.

His strike to put the Eagles in front on the stroke of half-time was Zaha’s 12th goal since the beginning of last season, but interestingly enough, all but two of those goals have come away from home. It’s a curious return that offers more questions than answers. That being said, there’s no question he’s getting into goalscoring positions, take this season for example, Zaha has had 10 shots at home (excluding blocks) and six away.

But in terms of getting them on target it’s 4-3 in favour of away Zaha, not much in there, but could the answer lie in how Hodgson’s sets up his team?

Crystal Palace have managed to record the bulk of possession twice on the road (vs Sheffield United and Burnley) and just once at Selhurst Park against Aston Villa. Being on top of the game naturally helps a speedster with an eye for goal like Zaha, who is now among the league’s very best.

No fewer than 25 take-ons separated Eden Hazard (138) and Zaha (113) last season to be crowned the Premier League’s dribble king. Both were the only players to register 100 or more and with Hazard leaving to become Real Madrid’s latest galactico in the summer the door open for Zaha to take his throne.

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