It was a thrilling afternoon of Premier League action.
First West Ham smashed Southampton 3-0 at The London Stadium whilst Fulham narrowly lost to Wolves. Then in the 5:30pm kick-off, Crystal Palace beat and relegated Cardiff City. What did we learn?
1. Palace are delightfully old-school
It’s rare these days to see a side playing 4-4-2 with two wingers and two strikers, because the skill-sets needed to make such a system functional are very hard to come by. You need forwards whose skill-sets compliment each other, you need midfielders that work relentlessly and full-backs who can handle themselves 1v1, and most importantly you need wingers that are phenoms; players who can drive wide and come narrow but whose creative ability is almost uncontainable.
Well, Palace have all of that. Jordan Ayew is the kind of roaming striker that acts a great foil for Michy Batshuayi whose predatory instincts make him so dangerous in the box – as Cardiff found out to their dismay when the Belgian made it 2-0. Luka Miliovojevic and James McArthur refused to be outworked in the middle, meaning that Cardiff had to go wide to find joy, which funnelled their creativity into easily (well, mostly) manageable crosses.
And then Wilf Zaha and Andros Townsend are absolutely resplendent. Townsend is an incredible talented player who is revelling in his “big fish small pond” role where he sees the ball constantly and is allowed freedom to run, dribble and shoot. It led to Palace’s third goal tonight, killing the opponents off.
The opening goal came from the star man Zaha. The Ivorian international is, with all due respect, far too good for Crystal Palace. He’s an obscenely talented dribbler who possesses a mean shot and a keen eye for a cross. He needs to be playing for a Champions League side, testing himself against the world’s finest.
And finally, there’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka: the duel master of a full-back whose impact needs no elucidation. He’s quite simply sublime and his ability to dominate his flank allows Palace to play such an expansive system with their wingers.
2. Arnautovic back in superstar form
Marko Arnautovic scored three goals in two games to start 2019. He was flying high and looked very much like the superstar West Ham had been crying out for. Then rumours emerged of a move to China, and for some reason West Ham declared he was going nowhere. It was so odd because as good as Arnautovic had been, there was always the sensation it could end at any moment and the offer from China was nice.
Still, he stayed, and signed a new deal. And then he didn’t score for the Hammers at all in the next few months. Alright he was injured for part of that, but his drop in form was noticeable. But today, one day shy of four months after he last found the net, Arnautovic hit his stride again. The Austrian was sublime against Southampton, torturing their back-line with his combo of skill and athleticism.
Arnautovic’s first goal was a superb run capped with a ruthless finish, and his second saw his superb striker’s instincts to nod home from close range. Alright in the end Ryan Fredricks (who had an incredible game) managed to upstage the Austrian with an audacious goal to make it 3-0, there was no doubt that Arnautovic had led West Ham this afternoon. Now they just need him to maintain this form into next season!
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3. Relegated Cardiff their own worst enemies
So Cardiff are down. That’s a shame for them as they have fought hard all season and been incredibly unlucky, especially in the run-in. Some of the errors that have gone against them have been nothing short of shambolic. Perhaps with VAR they may have stayed up.
But ultimately what has done them in is their own profligacy. Only Fulham have scored less goals than them this season, and today they missed a hatful of great chances against Palace. They scored twice, once a lucky own goal and the second a very late strike from Bobby Reid but that wasn’t enough.
It was a great shame because they created so many clear looks at the Palace goal but then wasted every single one of them. And then this heaped pressure on their defence which couldn’t handle it, and cracked. Bar a handful of exceptions, this has been the pattern for them all season and ultimately is the reason they are down.
4. Harvey Elliott makes history
There’s not been much point to watching Fulham lately. They’ve long-since been relegated and now that Scott Parker is in charge they don’t even play the free-flowing stuff that made them such box office under Slavisa Jokanovic.
MILESTONE: Harvey Elliott becomes the youngest player in Premier League history at 16 years and 30 days old.
He was born April 4th 2003. 👶 pic.twitter.com/VkPRkJTYXX
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 4, 2019
Parker deserves credit for making Fulham a semi-functioning side, but he deserves even more for giving young Harvey Elliott his Premier League debut. The young Englishman only turned 16 a month ago, and his appearance on the field makes him the youngest-ever player in the division’s history. When Elliot was born, José Mourinho hadn’t won a single trophy as a manager.
Trusting a youngster like Elliott not only puts Fulham into the record books in a positive manner (useful after a season like this) but also sets a tone for next season. If Fulham are to come back up, perhaps it will be done trusting their young talents like Elliott and Ryan Sessegnon.
5. Palace have to do more next season
Roy Hodgson came in last season with Palace looking dead and buried. He kept them up. This season he just about kept them out of the relegation dogfight but he never managed to get them consistently into the top-half, nevermind have them fighting for that 7th spot as the immense attacking talent at his disposal meant that he should do.
If Palace manage to retain Wilfred Zaha, Andros Townsend and Aaron Wan-Bissaka then there is honestly no reason why they, with some smart transfer business to add some depth and secure Michy Batshuayi on a permanent basis, can’t compete with the other sides pushing to take that no. 7 slot. We need to see ambition for Palace, because sides that just hang around in the division get boring, fast.