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Everton at Crystal Palace: The Opposition View

We spoke with Eagles podcaster Chris Hambling ahead of Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace v Everton FC - Premier League
Everton and Palace drew 0-0 at Selhurst Park on the opening day of last season
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Everton and Crystal Palace go head-to-head at Selhurst Park on Saturday, knowing that at least one side’s perfect start to the new season will come to an end.

The Blues have seen off Tottenham and West Brom so far, while Roy Hodgson’s men were victorious at home to Southampton and at Manchester United.

Eagles forward Wilfried Zaha will again be under the microscope, having again been linked with Everton but having started the season with three goals in two games.

Palace men finished 14th last term and have brought in QPR forward Eberechi Eze and West Brom defender Nathan Ferguson, as well as Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi on loan in the summer transfer window.

Before Saturday’s game, RBM spoke to Chris Hambling, contributor to the Palace podcast Back Of The Nest:

RBM: Firstly, after two wins from two, have you re-evaluated your hopes and expectations for Palace’s season, or is it still too early for that?

Chris: I’m always cautious but it’s a better than expected start. The performance against United was superb, but easy forget we were quite poor against Southampton and terrible against Bournemouth [League Cup defeat]. I think we’re a couple of players short of sustaining this.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Like Everton, Palace have maximum points from their opening two games of the season
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

RBM: Palace’s opening two wins have come on the back of picking up one point from the final eight games of last season. What’s changed?

Chris: The change has been a combination of a tactical shift to a 4-4-2 and competition for places. Last season we didn’t score anywhere near enough and it was hard to watch at times - especially in the restart, when Roy Hodgson failed to use the squad.

The shift to 4-4-2 has given us more up front, and we’ve been able to attack with pace.

RBM: With summer reinforcements in attack in Eze and Batshuayi and in defence in Ferguson, where else could Palace do with strengthening before the transfer window shuts?

Chris: We definitely need another attacking player; whether that’s in wide areas or centrally doesn’t matter too much due to flexibility of the likes of Jordan Ayew and Zaha.

We also need to get some out the door too. The squad is ageing and we have 27 over-21s. A new, young central midfielder and centre-back will also be required soon.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Palace paid QPR in the region of £20 million for Eze
Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

RBM: Roy Hodgson intimated after Palace’s win over Southampton that Wilfried Zaha, again linked with Everton, still wants to leave. Having since captained Palace in the victory over United, scoring twice, can you see Zaha moving on in this window?

Chris: I think he would like to, but he’s worth more to us than anyone has been willing to pay. It’s unlikely to be a deal we can do late in a window, either, as we’d need to get a replacement in.

He could play for all the big clubs - he’s criminally underrated - but nobody has taken the punt. For that reason alone, I think any interest will have to wait until January.

RBM: Palace were the Premier League’s second-lowest scorers last term with 31 goals. Were you surprised, then, that the club sold Alexander Sorloth to Leipzig this week, after he netted 33 himself while on loan at Trabzonspor in 2019-20?

Chris: Not at all. Sorloth never settled at Palace. He had a “what if?” moment when a goal was wrongly disallowed against Chelsea, but by the time he played his last game for us, there was no confidence and no drive in his play. He frankly looked League One standard.

The truth is that, once we loaned him out, the terms of the deal meant he was never coming back. It’s unbelievable we made a profit on him, and even more unbelievable how he has kicked on.

Crystal Palace v Grimsby Town - FA Cup Third Round
Sorloth’s spell at Palace didn’t work out
Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

RBM: James McCarthy left Everton for Palace last summer and has started both of their league games this term. What impression has he made at Selhurst Park so far?

Chris: Quite mixed. He has won a lot of fans through the fact he winds up opponents and puts the tough tackles in.

Many, myself included, felt he offered nothing much to the side and there were better players Hodgson was ignoring, but he has started the season superbly and I’m fast becoming a fan.

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

Chris: Exactly as we did against United. Hodgson changes very little. The only possible change I think could happen is Batshuayi in for Ayew, unless there have been any new injuries.

We have some players returning from injury pushing to get back in, but I don’t think this will be the game for that.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Palace will look to continue their best start to a Premier League season since promotion in 2013
Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Chris: Zaha - absolutely on fire at the moment and playing centrally with a licence to roam. It’s much tougher to pick him up now, but when he’s out on the left he can be marked out of the game too easily.

Also, a little shout for Andros Townsend who has been resurgent, and Jeff Schlupp, who is playing some direct, fast football out on the left.

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

Chris: I’m going with a 1-1 draw. I’ve been very impressed with Everton but our confidence is high right now, so I think we’ll create enough to get on the scoresheet and are defending well.

Our thanks to Chris for his time.