It was a very rude awakening for Frank de Boer in his first Premier League game. He set out his Crystal Palace side intending to control the game by calmly building from the back with purposeful passing and movement.
But Huddersfield might have missed the memo. The newly promoted side eagerly pressed the home team and unnerved them. Palace’s passing suffered and uncertainty with the manager’s new tactics rendered the team’s movement ineffective.
Palace had no time on the ball and got drawn into a scrappy game which they did not seem to be up for. Huddersfield were, and ran out deserved 3-0 winners. As a whole, Palace performed poorly in front of their own fans, with few positives.
One of those was Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The 21-year-old was a dynamo and really held his own in a busy midfield. Wilfried Zaha tried his best but had an off day and Jason Puncheon was nullified, leaving Loftus-Cheek as the only one to provide a sense of drive and urgency.
Bringing the ball out
Thanks to Huddersfield’s pressing, Loftus-Cheek often found himself playing too deep too often. Nonetheless, the midfielder burst forward with determination a few times to make things happen. Although inconsequential given the final result, his runs were able to put Huddersfield on the back foot for a change.
Winning physical battles
Without dominating a difficult game, Huddersfield got the upper hand by winning their individual battles. Loftus-Cheek was arguably one of the few players who finished the game with any credit. The youngster showed off a willingness to get stuck in and a determination to win his individual tussle.
He ended the game winning fifteen defensive duels, six 50/50 challenges and won 67% of his tackles. If his teammates had been able to match his desire, they might not have capitulated so easily.
Displaying vision and skill
A number of times, Loftus-Cheek also showed off his ability with the ball. Searching passes from deep provided opportunities for Palace’s forwards to utilise their pace. He successfully made six long passes during the game.
One ball with the outside of his boot to Zaha was particularly delicious and had the winger been able to control it better, he might have been through on goal. It was the sort of inventiveness required to break Huddersfield’s tactical control of the game but most of Loftus-Cheeks’ teammates were simply not at the races today.
The defeat leaves de Boer with a lot of work to do before the next game. It probably isn’t a good sign if their best player in the game was a young loan signing. If the Dutchman can find a way to channel Loftus-Cheek’s youthful energy, Palace would have another solid option linking their attack and defence together. His performance showed that there is at least some potential in this Palace team.
As for Loftus-Cheek, he would undoubtedly love to prove his parent club wrong for letting him leave, albeit temporarily. He still has a lot to learn in his fledgeling career, but Loftus-Cheek can use the time he has at Palace to show that he can indeed hang with the big boys.
It’s only been one game but if Loftus-Cheek carries on the way he started, he’s got a bright future in the Premier League.
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