While the Ivorian will back himself against his favourite opponents, Brendan Rodgers may be planning to unleash the Super Eagles forward on Sunday
Crystal Palace head into gameweek seven in 15th spot but one win from six hasn’t told the full story of the opening months of Patrick Vieira’s reign.
The Arsenal icon was brought in to alter the team’s stodgy style and begin the rebuild of a side that certainly weren’t spring chickens in Roy Hodgson’s final year at the club.
While some elements of Vieira’s rebuild are already evident — the team have switched to his favoured 4-3-3 and there’s a greater proclivity to retain possession — some things have also remained the same.
Jordan Ayew, for instance, continues to toil in front of goal and the final third in general.
He missed half-chances against Tottenham Hotspur, made the wrong decision to shoot wildly in the defeat by Liverpool rather than square to a free Wilfried Zaha and failed to tuck away a presentable opportunity in Monday night’s 1-1 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion.
Who will score more goals in the Premier League this season?
The latter particularly rankled given how Neal Maupay’s goal at the death prevented Palace from claiming a second win under their new boss. To Vieira, the stalemate was ‘brutal’.
Many have called on the Eagles boss to drop the Ghana frontman who hasn’t scored in 33 Premier League games, particularly with Michael Olise waiting in the wings, but the West African’s defensive shift means it would be a hard decision.
Eventually, the Frenchman may have no choice but to trust in the talented summer arrival from Reading.
Zaha, on the other hand, has perhaps epitomised how a few things remain unchanged at Selhurst Park. After a slow start at Chelsea and Brentford, the wide attacker has started dominating games with his aggressive ball-carrying and final-third incisiveness, ever probing to make things happen.
This was especially evident in the 3-0 win over Spurs, where he torched Emerson Royal for the whole game, always looking to dribble past the debuting right-back. Japhet Tanganga’s sending off opened up the game, but Palace were the dominant side hitherto, pushing the visitors back with their front-foot approach.
The club’s star player has been involved in four goal-creating actions (defined as passes, dribbles and fouls drawn directly leading to a goal)—only four players in the league had higher before this weekend’s games.
Currently on two league goals, Zaha’s next strike will see him hit new heights by becoming the first player in the Eagles’ Premier League history to score 50 times.
The 28-year-old’s character means he never shies from a challenge anyway, but he’ll particularly relish facing Leicester City on Sunday. The Foxes are the West African’s favourite opponents — he’s scored six times and set up two goals — and the attacker will look to inflict further damage on Brendan Rodgers’ team.
Leicester’s start to the season has surprised many observers, with injuries and illness restricting the Northern Irishman’s scope for tactical alterations. They have picked up one point from the last three games, winning only once in a stretch of five matches.
Rodgers’ reluctance to utilise Kelechi Iheanacho has irritated portions of the Foxes’ fanbase and a horde of Super Eagles fans are confused Seniorman has seen very little action.
Goal explained the situation in September, highlighting why this situation could change in the coming weeks.
While the disappointment of Iheanacho & Daka playing so little in 21/22 is understood, injuries have hamstrung Rodgers & limited Leicester.Previewed tonight's #UEL clash with Napoli, which potentially pits Iheanacho against Osimhen. @GoalAfrica #LCFC https://t.co/4BXG0hxlmR
Indeed, Leicester’s approach in their Europa League defeat maybe points to Rodgers reverting to an approach that brought the best out of the Nigerian in the second half of 2020/21. The East Midlands team utilised a 3-5-2 against Legia Warsaw, for the first time in their two major competitions, although they were beaten 1-0.
Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi didn’t play in Poland, respectively due to insufficient documentation and suspension, and it’ll be interesting to see if the former will finally be trusted to start his first league game this season.
The corresponding fixture last season seemed to have sealed the forward’s fate, but he unexpectedly turned things around to become a key match-winner for the Foxes.
Iheanacho’s near-impeccable finishing has been sorely missed this season, but their broader structure in regaining possession has been a major worry.
Rodgers’ team ranked second in the entire league for successful pressures per 90 last term but have slipped to fifth-bottom after six games.
Admittedly, six games is a small sample size of games, nevertheless, the chasm in recovering the ball as quickly as they used to is worrying.
Palace are unbeaten in three games at Selhurst Park, but more wins are imperative to get more people believing in Vieira’s demanding rebuild.
Zaha is without a goal from open play so far, yet his decisiveness and proactive nature suggest he’s primed to score at Selhurst Park for the third successive time for the first time since 2018.
The history-chasing attacker could be outshone by Iheanacho on the opposing side, but only if Rodgers chooses to be beneficiaries of the Nigerian’s match-winning capabilities by handing him his first league start of the season.