Injury-hit Palace will need someone to halt Alexis goal threat

Ten matches to go, and Palace are back where they were after the first seven games of the Premier League season: in the bottom three.

Off form: one goal in seven since joining United means Alexis Sanchez may have a point to prove against Palace tonight

Which all adds a little more peril to the visit tonight of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.

A win would propel Palace above Swansea, into the relative safety (for now) of 13th place.

Yet as Eagles fans who watched, solemnly, as the results came in over the weekend and Palace dropped back into the relegation zone, even an injection of league points now would only be a temporary reprieve in a scrap which seems certain will last into May. Three points cover seven clubs, with only West Brom cast adrift, their fate seemingly already sealed.

And all Eagles fans know what the problem is: Wilf Zaha, or his absence.

Just as his return from injury in September helped to turn things around for new manager Roy Hodgson after those win-less first seven games, Zaha’s absence since mid-January has coincided with a sequence of three defeats and two draws.

Much-missed: Ruben Loftus-Cheek

But Zaha is just one element of an injury crisis which has hit Palace since the new year. Perhaps equally as significant for Hodgson’s stretched squad has been the absence during a similar period of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the on-loan England midfielder who has provided some much-needed steel and skill in the middle of the park.

Indeed, a fully fit Loftus-Cheek may have been exactly the sort of player that Palace could have done with tonight to cope with the threat of Alexis Sanchez.

Hodgson has painful memories of Sanchez’s last visit to Selhurst Park, when he struck twice in Arsenal’s 3-2 win in late December, a result which probably marked the beginning of Palace’s listless spell, when their drive for safety from relegation first stalled.

Sanchez has scored just once in seven games since joining United in the January transfer window. Hodgson has to hope that that sequence is extended.

“You don’t learn things about players of that quality,” the Palace manager said over the weekend.

“What you learn, I suppose, is what you already know, that we are going to be playing against a very good player and if we give him a lot of time and space, and if we give him a lot of opportunities to do the things he is good at, he is likely to succeed.”

Martin Kelly and Jeff Schlupp return to Hodgson’s squad tonight, but Palace are still without eight other senior players, in addition to Zaha and Loftus-Cheek.

With games against Chelsea and Liverpool to come, either side of a trip to fellow strugglers Huddersfield, Hodgson needs his side’s injury crisis to be resolved, and quickly.

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1 Response to Injury-hit Palace will need someone to halt Alexis goal threat

  1. Chris says:

    Bugger. That was a choker. So near and yet so far.

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