The eighth round of the Premier League saw Crystal Palace winning with a large score against Leeds. Before considering today’s result, Crystal Palace had only one win out of the last five games played, in which they scored only four goals and conceded ten (including the 4-0 loss against Chelsea).
Looking instead at their home performances, Crystal Palace this year has been able to score only during the first 30 minutes of the game during the three games played at home.
Including Saturday’s game, Leeds retained quite a statistic as so far they had always won the total ball possession since the start of the season even during their first game against Liverpool. That was also the only defeat away before today’s game as they won after against Aston Villa and Sheffield for a total of seven goals scored and two clean sheets.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine the defensive organisation of Crystal Palace and we will understand the tactics implemented by Marcelo Bielsa for this game. In this analysis, we will also highlight how the Eagles were able to dominate the game from the very beginning
Roy Hodgson started with his classic 4-4-2. Vicente Guaita was between sticks with Scott Dann and Cheikhou Kouyate as centre backs. Patrick van Aanholt was the left-back, while on the opposite side we had Nathaniel Clyne. The midfielders were Ebereche Eze, James McArthur, Jairo Riedewald, and Andros Townsend. The two strikers were Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew.
Bielsa instead opted for a strategy that gave more satisfaction this year, 3-3-3-1 on paper. Illan Meslier was the goalkeeper, Ezgjan Alioski played as left-back with Luke Ayling on the right. Robin Koch and Liam Cooper were the centre-backs. Pascal Struijk was the defensive midfielder. Helder Costa and Jack Harrison were the wingers with Mateusz Klich and Stuart Dallas taking the position of centre and right midfield when they do not have the ball, while they acted as attacking midfielders while attacking. Patrick Bamford was the centre forward.
Crystal Palace’s strong start and restart tactic
As the Eagles commonly do when playing at home, they were able to direct the game on the right route after the first half of the game. The classic 4-4-2 of Hodgson helps his team to develop a plan that adjusts to his team’s capabilities and strengths. Worth a mention that the star player Zaha was often engaged in the offensive work of his team and enlightened the most dangerous attacks thanks to a strategy that puts him to play at his best.
The Eagles opted for a direct tactic in finding space on the wide areas serving their players with long passes most of the time. During the entire game, the Spanish goalkeeper chose to throw long passes beyond his own third hoping to find mostly Ayew, who could flick on the ball for a teammate.
Guaita played a short pass only once during the entire game, therefore Crystal Palace’s strategy was mostly orientated in keeping the ball away, avoiding unnecessary risks in the construction phase. Quite important is to notice how many bodies the Eagles brought around Ayew leaving Zaha as the only striker, creating density in order to outnumber the opponent.
The opening goal, however, came from a great header on a corner kick development. Zaha was obviously involved in the action that generated the corner, which was taken by Eze and finished by Dann.
The last time that the English defender scored was back in the 2017/18 season. A great delivery from the ex-QPR player made it impossible for Meslier to avoid the goal.
What is possible to highlight is the easiness of Dann in avoiding his man-marking. Koch and Cooper are respectively taking care of Dann and Kouyate, a fight between centre-backs. In a fraction of a second, the two Leeds’ players, decided to swap, and most probably for some type of miscommunication between the two players, they lose Dann who, with quick movement, finds the space and timing for a perfect header.
In this case, Dann with a quick move disorientated Cooper finding himself right behind Koch. It was too late for Cooper who tried to recover his man.
The Eagles kept their head in the game aiming for more, and the result is quite immediate. The second goal came again from a set-piece. This time it was Eze who gained the free-kick.
The Peacocks lost the ball possession on the right side while trying to come out. The pass from Dallas wasn’t accurate, and was intercepted, giving the opportunity to Crystal Palace’s players to quickly attack with a fast combination of short passes finding Eze.
The finish from the English player was a perfect execution, ending in the back of the net with great coordination and strength. The ball ended up right underneath the crossbar, leaving the goalkeeper helpless.
Leeds’s reaction and strategy
The Peacocks, even though they found themselves down two goals quickly were somehow able to produce a positive and aggressive reaction, reducing the deficit for a few minutes. Bielsa’s team preferred in developing their attacks on the right and left flanks. Exactly from the right side, the Peacocks were able to score twice, however, the first goal was ruled out for an offside position thanks to VAR when the score was still 1-0.
As it is possible to see from the below footage, Ayling did not receive any type of press from Eze, therefore, had enough time to prepare his long pass.
Costa, Klich, and Bamford were almost on the same line, all of them ready to sprint and receive the pass.
While Costa would stay in the wide area, marked by van Aanholt, Klich made a diagonal run attacked the inside channel flicking with a header the ball for Bamford. Kouyate was slightly off time.
Klich and Bamford in this action showed once again great synchronisation between each other. The Polish player flicked the ball smartly, leading Bamford to a quick change in his run, attacking the penalty area internally. Dann completely lost his marker and as we can analyse below. The midfielders and Clyne, the right-back, are too far away being unable to avoid Bamford’s perfect finish.
With the combination on the right side of a continuous rotation between Klich and Bamford, Bielsa added to his strategy as well a long pass from the right wide area to the left one, in order to find Harrison.
Harrison often received the long pass from Ayling, Costa, or Raphinha, who replaced the Portuguese player in the second half. However, he never seemed to be able to create danger. Clyne provided good coverage as well often winning the one-to-one.
Harrison finished his game with no accurate crosses and 15 ball possessions lost.
Crystal Palace defensive organisation
The Eagles defended with an organized line of four. Depending on Townsend’s position, instead, there was a line of four or three on the midfield. Townsend was often drawn out from Alioski, finding himself often on the same line of Ayew and Zaha, living some space behind him.
Another shape adapted mostly by the end of the game was instead a 4-4-1-1 with Ayew as well providing support, leaving Zaha alone.
The above footage shows the 4-4-2. Something remarkable about Hodgson’s tactics is the very short distance between defenders and midfielders. In addition, during the second half, the two units had been able to keep the right space between them, showing concentration and a great sense of organisation.
Leeds’ players had enormous struggles in finding some space deep and the inaccuracy of their wingers did not help.
Leeds’ mistake set Zaha on
Even though the Peacocks ended the first half down 3-1 due to an unfortunate own goal from Costa, they tried to get back into the game with a proactive and aggressive approach during the second half.
Yet the entrance of Raphinha, who gave more pace and dribbling on the right side, was not enough to turn the game, and, as previously mentioned in the analysis, the Peacocks’ inaccuracy was consistent.
After 68 minutes, Leeds had the opportunity of attacking in transition after the development of a corner kick taken by Eze. As we can see from the below footage, even though outnumbered, the Peacocks have enough space for playing, but again the decision-making and execution were not appropriate.
Harrison had his first attempted pass bounce back, while on his second attempt, he will just gift the ball to Kouyate, who will control and quickly start the transition for his team, finding Zaha on the wide left area.
Zaha had space and time for a diagonal run, reaching the edge of the penalty box supported by his teammates.
Even right at the edge of the penalty area, Zaha does not receive any type of pressing and is possible to admire how easy it was for him to find the passing lane for Ayew, left unexpectedly unmarked.
Roy Hodgson can be satisfied with the overall performance of his team. During the entire game, they showed organisation and compactness, often defending as a unique block. Set pieces and offensive transitions as well had a positive impact on today’s game, and Hodgson can look at the next games with a calm head.
On the other hand, Bielsa cannot be satisfied at all with the performance of his team. Too many mistakes, individually and as a team, made it just not possible to compete, making two games in a row with four goals conceded. The harsh fixture list ahead requires them to find the focus of the previous games with better organisation back on the defence.