For Roy Hodgson and Crystal Palace, a win was most welcome. The Eagles finished the 2019/20 season with no wins in eight, and starting this campaign with yet another poor performance would not have gone down well with the supporters.
While it was by no means a perfect performance, it was an excellent display in doing the basics right. Created chances were few and far between, but that will come with the introduction of Eberechi Eze, who shone in his brief cameo, and Michy Batshuayi to the starting line-up.
There were a number of excellent performances throughout, giving the Palace boss plenty to think about over the coming weeks.
Defeating Southampton Gives Crystal Palace Boss a Selection Headache
Andros Townsend Stakes His Claim
Competition for places in attack has risen with the arrivals of Eze and Batshuayi at Selhurst Park. After a below-par season, Wilfried Zaha looked like he was returning against Southampton. Sceptics may say that the transfer window remaining open as the season begins may have something to do with it, but his performance did not go unnoticed.
However, it was Andros Townsend who caught the eye from out wide. His energetic display on the right-hand side went largely under the radar. The 29-year-old set up Zaha for the only goal game, but his awareness saw him pick out his team-mate at the back post, instead of carrying it towards the byline.
Townsend had fallen out of favour last season, only making 24 appearances compared to 38 in the 2018/19 season. However, his impressive display, both in his defensive contributions and going forward, will have certainly thrown him back into contention.
Who is Roy Hodgson’s Best Central Defender?
Arguably, Roy Hodgson is starting the season without his preferred choice of centre-backs available. Gary Cahill, Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins were all unavailable for the visit of the Saints, and are likely to miss the start of the season.
However, the performances of Scott Dann and makeshift defender Cheikhou Kouyate will have comforted the Palace boss. The pair barely put a foot wrong, and for Scott Dann, who re-entered the frame last season, it should put him into contention to be first-choice when everyone is fit.
The 33-year-old last season was only used when absolutely necessary, as he effectively became fourth-choice centre-back. However, his performances towards the back of end last season reminded Hodgson of what he has at his disposal.
Dann was a contender for man of the match for Palace in their 1-0 win. He made two interceptions and eight clearances, the most out of any of his team-mates. While he did not make a tackle, the Saints chose to attack predominantly down the right-hand side, where youngster Tyrick Mitchell held his own, completing six tackles.
While Kouyate will move back into midfield when one of the injured three returns, Dann has certainly reminded his manager that despite his age, he is still able to compete and dominate attacks in the Premier League.
Where Does Eberechi Eze Fit In?
In his 10 minute cameo, the 22-year-old showed what his going to be capable of. There was no fear, despite it being his first Premier League game. As he slalomed past Kyle Walker-Peters – the Saints defender ended up in a heap on the floor – Palace fans excitement grew.
Eze entered the pitch and made his way to the left-hand side. While he has made it clear that he prefers to operate as a number 10, operate on the left does not faze him. During his ten minute spell, he completed two crosses, three dribbles and linked up well with Wilfried Zaha.
Although they started in a 4-4-2, the home side drifted into a 4-2-3-1 during the first half, as shown by this average positions map from The Athletic.
If Palace are looking to keep a fluid system, then Eze could operate in the position of Wilfried Zaha (number 11), while Zaha himself pushes wider into the position Jeffrey Schlupp operated in.
It is an exciting problem for Roy Hodgson and Crystal Palace to have. They could have one of the most exciting attacks of those around them, should they operate in the right system.
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