Football Features

“He is Brighton’s nemesis” – Winners & losers as Zaha inspires Crystal Palace comeback in M23 derby

By Ben Green

Published: 21:54, 16 December 2019

The bragging rights were shared in the M23 derby as Crystal Palace pegged Brighton back to secure a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park.

Graham Potter’s side dominated proceedings for the vast majority of this contest, culminating in Neal Maupay’s seventh Premier League goal of the season in the 54th minute, but Palace refused to yield as star-man Wilfried Zaha conjured up a moment of magic to level the match and clinch a point for his side.

The result has nudged Roy Hodgson and his Eagles above Arsenal, while the Seagulls stay languishing in 13th position in the table. Potter will feel like this was two points dropped rather than a point gained, but who were the winners and losers from another pulsating encounter in the capital?

Winner: Neal Maupay

The Frenchman failed to net a single goal in November, going four games without finding the back of the net, but he is truly on fire now and proving invaluable to Potter. His talismanic performances in the final third have yielded three goals in three games, including the match-winner against Arsenal and a sumptuous finish this evening.

Sceptics were dubious as to whether the diminutive marksman could make the step up to Premier League football, but those uncertainties have been well and truly put to bed as he has acclimatised swimmingly to the English top-flight and is now making considerable noise in East Sussex.

It took a while for Maupay to really stamp his authority on proceedings tonight, proving relatively anonymous in the first-half as Brighton dominated the ball but struggled to create openings. However, it would take just one moment, one glimmer of an opening for Maupay to explode into life.

As Leandro Trossard delivered a teasing cross from the right, the ball evaded the Palace defence and eventually found its way to Maupay, who adjusted his body and let fly, firing into the top corner and leaving Vicente Guaita with absolutely no chance. 

Loser: Christian Benteke

The towering Belgian made just his third Premier League start of the season this evening, and it’s clear to see why Roy Hodgson prefers the more mobile and inventive Jordan Ayew to spearhead his attack, as Benteke failed to really assert an authority in the final third and unsettle the centre-back partnership of Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster.

Indeed, the English duo worked well in tandem to suffocate Benteke, nullifying his physically-imposing presence by shutting him down consistently and pilling on the pressure whenever the ball found his feet, which proved scarce as he made the least number of touches of any outfield player in the opening 45 minutes (17).

As the jeers rang around Selhurst Park at the sound of Craig Pawson’s half-time whistle, one can only wonder what has happened to the Benteke of old; a threatening forward who once devastated defenders in the West Midlands and encouraged Liverpool to splurge over £30m for his signature.

At 29, Benteke is in the prime years of his career and should really be in his pomp, but he’s proving far too languid to truly validate a starting berth in Hodgson’s XI – and still searching for that all-elusive first goal of the campaign.

He had one or two openings after the restart and looked more lively, but simply not enough to vindicate a continued starting role.

Winner: Wilfried Zaha

With Palace proving rather lacklustre for the majority of this derby, the momentum took a dramatic shift with 15 minutes to go as Zaha – who else – took it upon himself to bring his side back into this contest and send the home fans into raptures.

The Palace faithful had been in good voice up until Zaha’s goal but the decibel levels reached a zenith as the incisive Ivorian rifled a bullet finish into the roof of the net to level the scoring. It was a trademark move by Zaha, who collected the ball from his habitual position on the wing, before dancing, pirouetting and deceiving Montoya and eventually letting loose.

Maupay’s goal was brilliant and left Guaita no chance, but Zaha’s was pure inspiration and one of individual brilliance as he added to his impressive tally against the Seagulls, bringing up his sixth goal in 11 games – more than against any other club.

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Loser: Jairo Riedewald

Starting for the first time since February 2018, Palace’s third-choice left-back was presented the perfect opportunity to move up the pecking order and stake a claim for a starting position in Hodgson’s first-team, but not only did he struggle to impress against an energetic Brighton, he was hooked at half-time.

There was a time when the 23-year-old was tipped for future stardom at Ajax in his native Netherlands, even racking up three international caps in 2015, but all that promise and potential is yet to be realised as his continues to play a peripheral role in south London.

This evening, Palace sorely lacked the verve and enterprise of Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Schlupp on the left byline, with Riedewald unable to bring the requisite dynamism and attacking presence of his teammates. 

Defensively as well the Dutchman looked susceptible, with Brighton having a lot of joy on the left touchline of Palace, while he arguably could have conceded a penalty after appearing to catch the leg of Martin Montoya – VAR was unmoved.

Winner: Yves Bissouma

With the ever-reliable workhorse Dale Stephens out of this contest due to suspension, Potter turned to Bissouma in an effort to alleviate the English midfielder’s tenacious void and bring a reminiscent bite to the middle of the park – and it worked a treat. 

The Ivorian was dogged and energetic, looking to break up play when Palace tried to counter-attack while simultaneously providing his teammates an option in central midfield. He worked well to protect his backline at times and will surely give Potter something of a managerial headache for this weekend’s match against Sheffield United.

Winner: Graham Potter

Look, Brighton may have conceded once again and faltered at the final hurdle – perhaps Chris Hughton would have shut up shop and held out for three points – but the signs of a more positive and expansive breed of football under the English technocrat are certainly positive.

Brighton played with a bravado and charm tonight, zipping the ball about with zest and playing with fluidity going forward. They seldom created chances in the first half but they were a joy to watch, while in the second half they really should have put the game to bed.

Palace are a deadly proposition on home turf and they duly capitalised on Brighton’s shortcomings in front of goal, but if Potter is able to tweak his system, such that his side are more defensively resilient, then the Seagulls will be an absolute force in future games.

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