Luka Milivojevic: The man to save Crystal Palace from relegation?
A great deal has been made of the importance of Wilfried Zaha’s return to first-team action at Selhurst Park. But the Serb’s contribution is just as key.
There are not many clubs who have endured a season quite as odd and unpredictable of that as Crystal Palace.
Few will forget their first seven matches of the campaign when they failed to register a point nor a goal, breaking top flight records. Frank de Boer lasted only four matches in the dugout before an unlikely return for former England boss Roy Hodgson.
The league’s oldest manager ended that run with a deserved triumph over champions Chelsea and his side began to forge a reputation for being involved in late drama. A last-minute equaliser at West Ham was followed by a last-gasp winner over Stoke City, before outdoing themselves by finding the net twice in a dramatic home win over Watford.
Ups and downs…
Crystal Palace were part of a run which brought just one defeat in 12 which included becoming the first team to take points from Manchester City in over four months.
The mood around the club had been lifted and the Eagles were soaring. It looked for all the world that Palace had generated enough momentum to see them through to a comfortable mid-table finish.
Then the injuries started to pile up, peaking at 13 injuries – six of them long-term – ahead of a home defeat to Tottenham. With just two points from six matches, they have been plunged back into the drop zone and this time they are lamenting late goals, including those from Spurs and Manchester United.
No player has appeared more frequently for Palace this season than holding midfielder Luka Milivojevic, with his skill and composure central to any hope of surviving in the top flight.
The Serbian international is more accustomed to titles than relegation battles and has already accumulated six medals in his career.
Having enjoyed stints with Red Star Belgrade, Anderlecht and Olympiakos, he joined Palace in a £15 million deal last January and immediately helped propel them to safety under the guidance of Sam Allardyce.
At the heart of Crystal Palace
Primarily Milivojevic shields a defence which is arguably among the most error-prone in the division and his ability to turnover the ball in the centre of the pitch and pick a pass is at the heart of Palace’s counter-attack and utilising their pacey wide-men.
Whilst his role is of a more defensive mindset he carries a significant goal threat and has hit nine goals since his move to the South London club, including seven in the division this season – five more than main striker Christian Benteke and at least three more than anyone else in the squad.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s consistent injury issues have once more shifted the emphasis onto the 26-year-old to provide an offensive emphasis with midfield partners Yohan Cabaye and James McArthur more limited in their attacking options.
There is no doubt Palace have the players capable of launching a late fightback to save themselves from the drop, despite the crippling injury list but MIlivojevic maintaining his form and fitness is central to any plan.
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