It is often an excessively simplistic argument that does not fully take into account the many nuances of football, but it is difficult to disagree with the contention that, had Jamie Vardy been playing for Crystal Palace rather than Leicester City in the pair’s clash on Saturday afternoon, the outcome would have been different.
It was Leicester who emerged victorious in the encounter at the King Power Stadium, with England international Vardy scoring the only goal to become the eighth player to find the back of the net in seven successive Premier League matches. In a game of few chances, Vardy’s clinical edge ensured the Foxes took the points in a meeting between two of the top flight’s surprise packages this term.
It is becoming a familiar theme for Palace, who have scored just once from open play in the Premier League since the 2-1 win at Chelsea in late August. While the Eagles’ defensive record has been better than expected – aside from his costly mistake against Leicester, Brede Hangeland has been terrific alongside the superb Scott Dann in the heart of the backline in recent weeks – they have looked a little blunt going forward, failing to translate their creativity and guile into goals.
Palace’s style of play is based around out-and-out wingers who generally look to beat their full-back down the outside, with Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako taking turns to fill the two slots in Alan Pardew’s XI.
Such an approach works best when there is a focal point at the top of the pitch to hold up the ball, bring the wide men into play and get on the end of crosses from the flanks. While his finishing was often pretty poor – just two goals in 29 appearances for the club – Cameron Jerome performed this function well in 2013/14, providing a much-needed physical presence up front.
Glenn Murray was the line-leader last season, but Palace sold the former Brighton and Hove Albion striker to Bournemouth on transfer deadline day. Murray’s strength and aerial ability made him an ideal centre-forward for this Palace side, with the man who netted 30 times in the Londoners’ promotion-winning campaign of 2012/13 also a competent finisher from inside the penalty area.
Murray’s sale and the injury to Connor Wickham, who has been out since the aforementioned win over Chelsea, have robbed Palace of the type of striker they rely on. Dwight Gayle and Frazier Campbell have both been used up top since but not really convinced, while trials with Bolasie and Sako as the lone frontman have simply demonstrated that neither has the understanding of the role to be a long-term solution.
The lack of goals is a problem that Pardew must solve if Palace are to improve on last season’s top-half finish. Zaha and Bolasie are excellent wingers on their day but remain extremely erratic when it comes to shooting; while Yohan Cabaye has proved reliable from the penalty spot and Sako has shown he has a dangerous left foot, there is simply not enough of a scoring threat elsewhere in the team for Palace to get by without a striker capable of finding the back of the net at least 10 times a season.
It is to be hoped that a fully-fit Wickham will prove to be that man. Even though the ex-Sunderland striker has not exactly been prolific in his career to date, his skillset at least matches the requirements for the role within Palace’s system. He may not be Jamie Vardy, but the 22-year-old could be the player to bring out the best in his team-mates and ensure Palace do not suffer from a failure to put the ball between the posts often enough.
About the Author – Greg Lea
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.