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Everton vs Crystal Palace: The Opposition View

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We spoke to Eagles blog HLTCO ahead of Sunday’s clash

Everton v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Everton beat Palace 3-1 at Goodison Park last season
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Everton will be aiming for three consecutive league wins when Crystal Palace visit Goodison Park on Sunday.

It would mark the first time the Blues have achieved this feat since January 2017 when, ironically, a win at the Eagles sealed a third straight victory in the Premier League.

Palace, meanwhile, are looking to avoid a third league defeat in a row after losses to AFC Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Roy Hodgson saved the South Londoners from relegation last year after losing their first seven games, and a stunning end to the season propelled them to an 11th-placed finish.

But the momentum has failed to carry into this campaign, and Palace sit 14th after eight games, four points above the drop.

Prior to Sunday’s match, RBM spoke to Dan, from Palace blog HLTCO (Hopkin Looking To Curl One...), about their early-season struggles and his expectations about the game:

RBM: Has Crystal Palace’s season so far panned out as you anticipated, or did you expect a bit more considering last campaign’s strong finish?

Dan: Our start to the season has been hugely disappointing, given how strongly we finished back in May. We are still without a goal at Selhurst Park and are only out of the bottom three thanks to an opening-day win over Fulham and a smash-and-grab up at Huddersfield Town. Everton represent the start of an extremely tough run for us; it’s definitely not been a happy time.

RBM: What would constitute a successful season for Palace?

Dan: Back in the summer many of our fans were hoping to see the club kick on and push for a top-half finish this term but after the rough start we’ve endured, Premier League safety is once again the only thing on the agenda. It’s hugely frustrating but reality bites hard when you start in the manner we have.

RBM: Wilfried Zaha was extremely critical of referees when discussing his treatment from them last month. Were his comments fair?

Dan: To those outside the Palace bubble, Wilfried Zaha is the definition of Marmite. Many view him as a moaner but ask anyone within our fan-base and they’ll tell you that he gets an extremely rough ride each and every week.

Teams know how pivotal he is to our chances of success and double or triple-up on him from the first minute until the last. It really is a miracle he’s not had his leg broken at any stage.

Watford FC v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Zaha is crucial to Palace’s team but feels referees don’t give him enough protection
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

RBM: Palace’s record without Zaha is horrendous – they last won a match in his absence in September 2016 and last season, they lost all 10 league games in which he didn’t start.

Is stopping Palace’s goal threat as simple as nullifying Zaha?

Dan: While most neutrals understandably look at Palace as the definition of a “one-man team” I always argue that any side outside the top six with Zaha in their ranks would build their side around him.

In recent times, our play has leaned on Wilf heavily and as a result, other players actively look towards him as we attack, the knock-on effect is a lack of cutting edge elsewhere in the XI, which is what you often see when he’s absent.

RBM: The raucous Selhurst Park atmosphere is well-documented, but the Eagles have won just seven home fixtures since the start of last season.

How do you explain their struggles on their own turf?

Dan: This season, there has been a constantly-evolving story-line regarding the absence of the Holmesdale Fanatics in the home end which has made an undeniable difference to the atmosphere in SE25. It’s impossible to say for sure if that is responsible for our poor form since August but it certainly hasn’t helped.

Beyond that, it’s worth pointing out that we are a team naturally designed to play on the break and sadly, when teams come and sit deep, we struggle hugely to break them down.

Crystal Palace v Newcastle United - Premier League
Palace fans have a reputation for creating a rousing home atmosphere, but it hasn’t translated on to the pitch of late
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

RBM: Given this weekend’s game is at Goodison, and Palace’s decent record at Everton lately, are you more confident about it than if it was at Selhurst?

Dan: While no trip to Everton is looked upon as straightforward, the previous answer regarding our suitability to playing on the counter should aid our chances of success at Goodison. There is no point downplaying the level of attacking talent [Marco] Silva has at his disposal but when we’re in the right frame of mind, we can cause problems.

Unfortunately, Christian Benteke is definitely out of the game and Zaha is a major doubt, which severely dents our hopes of pulling off an upset.

RBM: As a fan of a club recently managed by Sam Allardyce, did you have as little time for him as most Evertonians did during his spell at the Toffees?

Dan: Sam Allardyce’s time at Palace was one of differing extremes. When he arrived our chances of survival looked disturbingly slim, meaning the superb run of form he oversaw led to him being lauded for pulling off a great escape.

Sadly, shortly after the season finished he decided to “retire” leaving us back at square one, only to turf up on Merseyside soon after. There are plenty of Palace fans who still have a lot of time for him; personally, I think his entire persona smacks of arrogance.

Crystal Palace v Hull City - Premier League
Allardyce guided Palace to safety in 2016/17, but left after the season ended
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

RBM: How do you expect Palace to set up on Sunday?

Dan: Without Benteke, and quite possibly without Zaha, it’s difficult to know for sure but it’s unlikely that Hodgson will go in gung-ho from the start.

The lack of a fit and firing striker has led to him using Jordan Ayew in the role of late with little-to-no impact meaning that Alexander Sørloth may be given the nod. He has been speaking about his frustration at a lack of minutes over the international break, so Sunday’s encounter could see him being forced to sink or swim.

RBM: Zaha aside, who else do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Dan: Patrick van Aanholt has really come into his own as an attacking force at Palace over the last 12 months, often linking up with Zaha to great effect on the left-hand side.

Even without the 25-year-old, I can see him being a thorn in Everton’s side if he is able to bomb on even semi-regularly. Who will be playing in front of him remains a complete guess as things stand, though.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?

Dan: As much as I’d like to predict an upset I just can’t see it. 2-0 to Everton.

Our thanks to Dan for his time.