Match week four in the Premier League featured the most expensive clash ever in the history of football. With the whole world's eyes firmly fixed on the Manchester derby, there was the small matter of Crystal Palace vs Middlesbrough at the Riverside stadium.
Summer loanee signing Loic Remy picking up a thigh injury during training, he is set to be unavailable for a number of weeks and is currently receiving treatment at parent club Chelsea. Therefore, Crystal Palace lined up as a conventional 4-3-3 formation, allowing Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha to exploit the wings and continually produce crosses into the box for dangerous forward Christian Benteke to attack.
Palace excite in first half and take deserved lead
This clever game plan paid off in the 16th minute of the game, Adam Clayton misplaced a pass, allowing Zaha to eventually receive the ball from a throw in on the right side of the pitch. With no pressure from any Middlesbrough players, Zaha took full advantage of the foolish defending and took his time before producing an exquisite cross to the back post. Star Summer signing Benteke delivered a trademark header, towering above Daniel Ayala and heading across goal and into the net to put Palace ahead after largely dominating the first proceedings of the game.
The Eagles had the wind in their sails, comfortably taking control of the game and playing extremely good football in doing so. This was demonstrated by a piece of play that once again started on the right flank of the pitch with Zaha, using his pace and skill to get past the opposition left back and pass to Benteke who had his back to goal inside Middlesbrough’s box. Benteke strongly held off challenges from the opposing centre half’s and eventually laying off Andros Townsend to strike on his right foot and making Victor Valdes produce a very good save. Typically, Palace’s defensive woes from set pieces was once again highlighted; on the 38th minute Damien Delaney failed to jump at a corner as the man he was supposed to be marking - Ayala - headered in the equaliser for the hosts. Half time at the Riverside stadium ended one-a-piece between 'Boro and Palace.
A regular critique of the Eagles of recent times is that they do not take advantage of periods in the game in which they dominated and score a goal. This was not the case early in the second half as in the 47th minute a through ball from James McArthur and some extremely woeful defending from George Friend left Zaha through on goal and the twice-capped England man cooly finished into the top left-hand corner to put Palace back ahead.
After some desperate and unsuccessful penalty shouts from Boro as the game drew to a close, the game ended 2-1 to the visitors, earning a much needed first victory of the season for Alan Pardew's side and only their third league win in the 2016 calendar year.
Preference of Kelly to Souare key to improved defensive display
Preferring defensively minded Martin Kelly at left-back to the unpredictable Pape Souare was a tactically brilliant decision, allowing the back four to flourish without the constant worry of Souare bombing forward and leaving huge gaps at the back. In addition, not conceding soft goals such as against Bournemouth where Souare was caught out of position and eventually resulted in the opposition scoring. Therefore his exclusion allowed Palace to feel more comfortable as a unit at the back.
The Man of the Match award was deservedly given to Eagles winger Zaha, who constantly caused problems to opposition defenders and produced an assist and a goal during the match. He backs up points Palace chairman Steve Parish was making during the week, that "if he were more consistent," the pacey and skilful winger has "the potential to play for worldwide football powerhouses such as Barcelona or Real Madrid."
Could another formidable partnership be brewing between Winger Zaha and Forward Benteke, replicating the partnership that deemed so successful for Palace of Zaha and Murray in the 2012/13 play-off winning promotion season?