Crystal Palace: Injury crisis threatens Eagles top-flight status
Roy Hodgson brought about a sharp upturn in fortunes for Palace earlier in the campaign but a threadbare squad leaves them facing relegation.
It is often said that the league table does not lie. After all, it is a statistical system of collecting and ranking teams based on results over a nine-month period.
But it is not always strictly true that the best clubs win the league and those who go down are the worst teams in the league.
There are many varying factors which are not picked up by pure data extracted from results but none are quite as significant as injuries.
At the moment, Crystal Palace have 13 of them – over half of their first-team squad.
Injury crisis in South London
Saturday’s defeat at Tottenham saw 20-year-old midfielder Aaron Wan-Bissaka earn his first league start. Less than ideal, though, was the fact that his debut came at right-back.
For the Spurs game, Roy Hodgson’s seven-man bench included Dion-Curtis Henry, Erdal Rakip, Nya Kirby and Jason Eyenga-Lokilo. None had previously played a Premier League match.
To make matters worse, central defender James Tomkins was the latest injury casualty, forced off with five minutes of the match remaining.
Tomkins joins Yohann Cabaye, Joel Ward, Wilfried Zaha, Mamadou Sakho, Martin Kelly, Jeffrey Schlupp and Julian Speroni on the sidelines.
There are five long-term absentees too with Bakary Sako, Scott Dann, Jason Puncheon, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Connor Wickham all ruled out of action for the foreseeable future.
Palace’s defensive crisis deepens ahead of their next clash with Manchester United, with loanee Timothy Fosu-Mensah unable to play against his former club.
One step forward, two steps back
After losing their opening seven league games of the campaign, things were always going to be an uphill struggle for Palace.
Three of those defeats came under Hodgson but while there is a general perception he immediately oversaw a sharp upturn in fortunes, the South London club picked up only two victories in his opening 12 league outings.
With a standout victory over Chelsea and decisive late goals against West Ham, Stoke and Watford sparked a wave of optimism, a run of just one defeat in 12 seemed to suggest Palace had turned the corner for good with impressive victories over Leicester and Burnley along the way.
Yet momentum is hard to gain and easy to lose and just two points from their last five league games has once more plunged Palace back into trouble.
A big ask
As things stand, Palace find themselves above 18th-placed Swansea City on goal difference only, with Stoke City only one point further back.
Whilst the lower half of the table congestion ensures Hodgson’s side are only a victory away from West Ham, in 13th, their injury situation and upcoming run of fixtures could spell problems.
Three of their next four fixtures come against Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool meaning their immediate predicament looks set to get worse before it improves.
A home clash with Leicester and a trip to Watford are their only remaining opponents in the top half, but with confidence flat and questions over both player form and fitness, it could be a big ask for Palace to keep their heads above water.
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