Wilfried Zaha

“Zaha is full of confidence and he is untouchable on his day, absolutely untouchable. “

Pace, power, skill, trickery and a penchant for the unexpected; Wilfried Zaha has got it all. He can frustrate you one moment and leave you gasping for air the other. But that’s not all that he’s got in his locker; the Ivorian maverick is already a Crystal Palace favourite at the age of 26, considering the level of performances he has put up on display and the offers that he has refused to go on to play for bigger and better clubs.

It’s not an understatement to say that Zaha has dragged Palace through to some crucial points. Crucial points, which have determined the South Londoners’ Premier League future season after season.

Since their promotion in 2012/13 season, Zaha has elevated their Premier League status from mere passer-by’s to an upper mid table team; who at their best have the ability to salvage a Europa League spot and at their worst, may just finish above the relegation zone. Such is the quality of their main man, with the ability to carry his entire team on his back; there is always a guarantee that their number 11 will deliver. Our inability to think of the Eagles as relegation fodder is mostly down to that man. Many argue that one factor weighs heavily than the rest, whilst talking about the future of the Glaziers, the fact that without Zaha, Palace would have been stranded.

Much has been said in recent seasons about how Crystal Palace Football Club is a one-man team, with their beloved star winger coming to the team’s aide in dire times. It is not so much the lack of quality that Palace possesses, it’s that their entire game plan and strategy revolves around the left-winger starting attacks and taking the game to the opposition. Without him, the team looks lost and performs in a perfunctory manner, devoid of any conviction or poise. It is a widely accepted opinion that he has been the Londoners’ best player since the legendary Ian Wright, who went on to score 117 goals for the club.

A modest tally of 7 goals and 2 assists in 24 appearances this season might not seem a lot for a player of his quality, but Zaha has never been one for sheer goalscoring accolades, his mastery in the art of drawing a foul, his breathtaking twists and turns, his marauding runs from the left to terrify the opposition’s defenders, and his blistering pace that blow away his opposite number is what defines him.

Surprisingly, Zaha lies second in goals scored for Palace this season, with Luka Milivojevic as the top scorer, with 8 goals to his name. The Serbian also had the highest goals last season. In fact, there has not been a single season where the Ivorian has scored the most goals in a Premier League campaign for his club.

The Crystal Palace faithful love to see their number 11 on the team sheet; simply because they have had a wretched record against the opposition when he isn’t playing. This is evident in the case of the dismal start to the 2017/2018 season, where Palace began the first seven games with seven losses, scoring zero goals. Palace were unofficially destined for relegation by most fans and pundits alike.

Wilfried Zaha
The excellent Wilfried Zaha struck before half-time as Palace beat Chelsea and won a League match for the first time last season at the eighth attempt

Chelsea were next, and it seemed like a cakewalk for the Champions, it was anything but. The recent appointment of Roy Hodgson and the return of their star player sparked an inspiring victory, defying all odds and all logic. The difference maker? No prizes for guessing.

Selhurst Park is a sight to behold when he’s in the mood, leaving the opposition’s right-backs absolutely petrified. There have, of course, been many suitors to lure him away from Palace; but he has always stuck through thick and thin. Thereby cementing his cult hero status at the home of the Eagles.

The exclusion of a proper striker for the majority of the season had taken its toll on his performances; with the Ivorian clearly underperforming playing as a striker, alongside Andros Townsend. Much like the situation surrounding Eden Hazard at Chelsea, Palace failed to unlock their star player’s true potential by playing him as a forward instead of left-wing, where he has the license to exploit defences.

There has, however, been an upsurge in the numbers of goals and overall contribution in the game. With the inclusion of Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi giving him a chance to implement his trade at left-wing, the winger has thrived by scoring 3 goals in his last 5 appearances for Crystal Palace.

The return of Christian Benteke also bodes well up top, with Palace looking to end the season on a high. Zaha explained: “Before me and Andros [Townsend] had to scramble up top trying the best we can but now there’s so many options. It makes such a difference when we take our time with the final pass and hitting the target is then the main thing.”

The former Manchester United winger is rightfully touted as the best player outside the top six. Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever United signing had a lot to live up to, but the then, 10 million pound man failed to deliver on his overflowing promise and talent. He went on to play for his boyhood club again, after going through what he felt was like “hell” at Manchester United. Though, it’s safe to say that he has not disappointed for Crystal Palace.

Very few players in the Premier League split opinion like Wilfried Zaha, but it’s time to appreciate him for what he is, a true Crystal Palace icon.

Feature Image via Muthead

Title quote by Andy Johnson

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