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Can Wilfried Zaha end his drought against ravaged Spurs?

3:10 am AEDT 26/1/19
Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace
Having gone months without scoring, the stage could be set for the luckless Ivorian to break his prolonged duck

COMMENT    By Seye Omidiora      Follow on Twitter
 

Crystal Palace’s 2-0 win at Huddersfield Town in gameweek four was significant for two reasons: the Eagles had just prevented a third successive loss on the spin, and Wilfried Zaha just scored his third of the season in four appearances.

The wideman’s purple patch at the start of the campaign put him on pace to shatter his personal best of nine league goals set in 2017/18.

While that game might be remembered for the rough tackles he received, it couldn’t dampen the expectations that’d been birthed as a consequence of his streaky spring out of the blocks.

If anyone had at the time predicted that the Ivorian would still be stuck on three strikes for the season with January in its final week they’d probably have been laughed out of the room.

However, the shocking reality is that Zaha has failed to score since August, and doesn’t seem like besting his individual high anymore.

Having hit the back of the net at a frequency of one in 283 minutes last term, that number has slumped to one every 599 in the current campaign.

It’s disappointing considering how his performances and improved end product in the previous season prompted reported interest from the league’s top sides, and even a few on the continent.

In truth, the heavily burdened attacker hasn’t been helped by Roy Hodgson’s overly defensive structure which has seen the South London club score only 23 times in 23 games in the league.

Their pervading over-reliance on the wideman, who's latterly been linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund, often leaves him with too much to do, and snuffing him out is often the primary tactic of opposition managers.

The aforementioned goals return only puts them above Fulham (21), Newcastle United and Cardiff City (21) as well as Huddersfield (13) in the top flight, and their atrocious home record only betters a Terriers side propping up the table.

Hodgson’s negativity has slightly limited Zaha’s effectiveness this season, as was apparent in their London derby encounter against Chelsea before the turn of the year.

The experienced manager set up his side so defensively that it infuriated home supporters; they were without an attempt on goal until the 85th minute, and ended the game with a risible expected goals of 0.24.

When they did make a push in the final few minutes of the game, they could’ve pegged the Blues back, but it was a game plan that frustrated the isolated Zaha who couldn’t get a kick all game.

Wilfried Zaha | 2018-19 Premier League stats

Admittedly, the handbrake has been off recently, evidenced by last week’s seven-goal thriller against Liverpool at Anfield.

It’s ironic that the previously low-scoring Glaziers were the first side to put more than one goal past Alisson Becker in Merseyside this season. While they played on the counter for a large duration of the encounter, there was more ambition in possession, as opposed to the aforementioned Chelsea loss.

It was on one of those quick breaks that Palace’s talisman showed his quality by picking out Andros Townsend with a brilliant pull-back. What was more impressive than the Englishman’s astute finish was how the Ivory Coast international surged past James Milner in the build-up to the goal. 

Zaha had the makeshift full-back on toast all game, and it was no surprise he was directly involved in the stand-in defender’s two yellows which saw the Reds reduced to 10 men.

He created three chances on the day, just one less than the whole Palace squad combined, and was a constant threat with his direct running. Having struggled for consistency since the start of the season, the attacker’s recent trio of games indicates he’s returning to his best – and that his prolonged drought may soon be over.

With Tottenham Hotspur set to visit Selhurst Park in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup on Sunday, there’s a sense of revenge being on the cards for the Eagles owing to how their league encounter in early November panned out.

Crystal Palace 2018-19 Premier League stats

Zaha missed out as Spurs secured an unconvincing 1-0 win, and his absence was felt given how his team lacked that extra edge in the final third.

The Lilywhites weren’t in the best of form at the time, and it was disappointing how the home failed to take advantage.

With Mauricio Pochettino’s side seemingly there for the taking yet again owing to the absence of a glut of key players, Palace and Zaha will be relishing their chances of causing a causing a Fourth Round upset.

If their first-half performance in Thursday night’s Carabao Cup semi-final elimination by Chelsea is anything to go by, Hodgson will have his lads up for it from the blast of the whistle, and instruct them to get at a backline that seemed unable to cope with an invigorated Blues side in the opening half.

Ben Davies suffered a knock too, further thinning the options available to the Spurs boss.

It wouldn't be the biggest giant killing in FA Cup history, but the Eagles will smell blood this weekend, and hope to catch their London rivals out on a bad day. With Zaha seemingly back in form, they certainly stand a chance to upset the applecart.

Perhaps the forward could finally get the proverbial monkey off his back; against a vulnerable Spurs, he may not have a better opportunity.