The Warmdown: What we Learned from Crystal Palace vs Chelsea
(Photo by Darren Walsh - Getty Images)
  • Palace don’t get what they deserve – again

On numerous occasions this season, Crystal Palace have failed to get the rewards they merited from promising performances. Usually, the complaint is that they took only a point from a game they should have won, but nobody could really claim Palace deserved all three points here after they didn’t muster a single shot on target.

Instead, a deserved draw slipped away from Patrick Vieira’s men in the 89th minute as an underwhelming Chelsea side snatched a scarcely-deserved victory. 

Vieira must be getting sick of this.

Palace have drawn plaudits from far and wide this season for their style, but Vieira is a born winner and knows better than anybody that it’s all about the result: he looked distinctly unimpressed post-match when asked if he was happy, despite the defeat.

Though Palace showed resilience and moments of quality, they are once again left to wonder what might have been.

  • Andersen goes from strength to strength

Joachim Andersen has impressed at Selhurst Park from day one. His composure and range of passing are outstanding, and he has become the go-to guy when Palace need an out ball to beat the press.

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Often, he feels more quarterback than centre-back as he gleefully slings diagonal passes to runners in all corners of the pitch. 

Despite his technical prowess, there have been questions about his ability to defend. He has surely put those to bed with some dominant recent displays, and yesterday was possibly his best yet in red and blue.

The Dane totally bossed Romelu Lukaku, a world-class striker who admittedly isn’t having the best season, with his aggression and combativeness helping win the physical duels and limit the Belgian to just seven touches in the entire game.

His positioning off the ball was also on point, and he frequently found himself in the right place to clear Chelsea crosses and relieve the danger.

It could be that this newfound assurance is the understated excellence of his partner Marc Guehi rubbing off on him. Or maybe he’s just an outstanding centre half that Palace are lucky to have. 

  • Olise as a ten could be a game-changer

Vieira sprung a surprise in his starting XI, with Michael Olise playing centrally behind Wilfried Zaha in a 4-2-3-1. It brought fluidity, with all the front four popping up in different areas across the front line at different times, but Olise was noticeably used much more centrally instead of his usual role on the right. 

Thus far, we have only seen Olise’s talents showcased out wide, where there is more space to create. On Saturday, he found himself in the centre of a congested midfield battle and showed signs that he could flourish there too.

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Most of Palace’s best work in the game came through his ability to receive the ball in tight spaces, drop the shoulder, and quickly shift direction. His eye for a pass is exceptional, and he created a glorious chance for Zaha just before halftime, with a ball through the eye of a needle in the Chelsea backline.

This performance will have given Vieira serious food for thought ahead of the Watford game on Wednesday, where Conor Gallagher will return from his enforced absence against his parent club. 

  • Vieira still doesn’t know his best team

Do Palace have too many options now? This would have seemed an absurd thing to say last season as the Eagles’ ageing squad slugged their way through a miserable campaign.

Palace fans craved options in the squad, and now they have them in abundance - so much so that Vieira has not named an unchanged line-up in the league since the start of October against Leicester City. Of course, injuries and Covid have played their part in this, but it doesn’t appear that the Frenchman knows what his strongest XI is with everyone available.

Aside from the two centre backs, and Tyrick Mitchell, there is uncertainty about the first choice in every position on the pitch. Even Vicente Guaita’s spot in goal isn’t nailed on anymore. While competition for places is unquestionably a good thing, Vieira must take care not to overthink things and let his embarrassment of riches become a burden.

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Too much change can lead to uncertainty and inconsistent performances; this is the paradox of choice.

  • Watford game is now worryingly big

Taken in isolation, there is no shame in narrowly losing to the European champions. This latest defeat, however, is another disappointment in a long winless run for Palace that stretches back to 2021 and leaves them just eight points above Watford in the drop zone. They visit Roy Hodgson’s side on Wednesday night, and with the Hornets also having a game in hand, this is now a game that Palace simply cannot afford to lose.

Watford pinched a 1-0 smash-and-grab victory away at Aston Villa on Saturday in classic 'Roy-ball' fashion. Pessimistic Palace fans will be worried about a repeat result in midweek, and while it’s definitely possible, the cynics among the fans would do well to remember that the Hornets have been dreadful for most of this season, while Palace have been pretty good.

The Eagles should go there with confidence - an away win would restore that chasm to the drop zone and relieve the pressure that’s been steadily building. Palace should go all out to get it.