They say luck evens itself out over the course of a football season but, with just ten games of the campaign left to play, Crystal Palace fans are waiting for the tide to turn in their favour.
The Eagles find themselves in 17th position and only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference. They’re winless in five and have picked up just two points from the 15 on offer since their victory over Burnley in January.
Roy Hodgson’s men are in a relegation battle when they should, in all honesty, be pushing for a place in Europe. According to Understat, a website which analyses expected goals (xG) and expected goals against (xGA) to give teams an expected points tally, had Palace done what’s been expected of them this they would be sitting in seventh position now, just six points behind Manchester United in fifth.
It’s all theoretical, of course, but it does show a number of things. Firstly, though Palace are only averaging 0.89 goals per game, they are creating high quality chances, worth 1.42 goals per game. They’re also a little better defensively, with an xGA90 average of 1.42, compared to the 1.53 they’re currently conceding.
The picture it paints is one of a team with bad luck. And, to an extent, it’s true. Hodgson’s men have been unlucky this season. They were without Christian Benteke for a period of time and haven’t been able to name Wilfried Zaha in their starting XI since the 1-1 draw with Newcastle United at the start of February. They’re two of the team’s most important players.
However, all teams struggle with injuries. The Eagles aren’t the only team to be without key individuals so that excuse only carries so much weight. Furthermore, the xG numbers show Palace have still managed to create high quality chances throughout this season. So, though they’ve been missing players, they’ve still been able to create enough opportunities to win many more matches than they have.
When analysing their matches it becomes clear that it’s not due to bad luck that Palace find themselves in a relegation scrap – it’s because they’re having to rely on underperforming players.
Benteke is the culprit. The blame can’t be laid solely at the feet of the Belgian forward, but he is responsible for their woes in front of goal. The former Liverpool striker has, according to the Premier League’s official website, missed 18 big chances this season.
He’s in good company; the best miss chances on a regular basis. Mohamed Salah (19), Harry Kane (16), Álvaro Morata (15), and Sergio Agüero (12) have all missed clear-cut chances. It comes as part of the package.
The difference, however, is the four mentioned above all find the back of the net with regularity. Salah, Kane and Agüero all have north of 20 league goals, while Morata has ten strikes to his name. Benteke, on the other hand, has put the ball in the back of the net on just two occasions this season, in over 1800 minutes of play.
The volume of chances for the strikers no doubt helps. The Belgium International averages 2.3 shots per 90 minutes. Kane (6.2), Agüero (4.4), Salah (4.1) and Morata (3.2) all get more opportunities in a match and all four are able to convert low-quality chances. It’s why they’re all over performing their xG for the season, with the exception of Morata, who finds himself 1.47 goals behind, while Benteke is seven goals down on his.
What must be worrying for Palace is the fact 38 per cent of Benteke’s shots this season have been big chances. Chances for teams below the top six are often at a premium, yet Hodgson’s men are managing to create a big chance for their No.17 every other match. Service, quite clearly, isn’t an issue.
In recent matches against West Ham United, Newcastle United and Everton, Palace had combined xG total of 5.82 but scored just three goals and picked up two points. Benteke failed to put away his chances in those matches as you’ll see below.
Benteke’s missed chances
Benteke is famed for his ability in the air. In the game against Everton he shows great intelligence to position himself up against Jonjoe Kenny as Yohan Cabaye lifts the ball over the top. But then, having done the hard part, he fluffs his lines and fails to even get his header on target. It’s clear to see what he’s trying to do but he gets it wrong.
Palace are 2-0 down at the time and this opportunity is just ten minutes into the second half. If Benteke puts that away it changes the complexion of the game.
The chance above is against Newcastle. Patrick van Aanholt does superbly to play Benteke in here and the Belgian is racing through on goal. The first touch could’ve perhaps been better, to take him a little wider, and this allows Karl Darlow to narrow the angle with ease.
It’s not the easiest of chances but you’d expect a player of Benteke’s quality to be putting that away.
In the same same match he misses from inside the six-yard area. Again, it’s a difficult chance but he’s paid the big money because he’s supposed to be ruthless in front of goal. In isolation these misses aren’t a problem, but when they’re happening on an almost weekly basis it’s an issue, and Palace are suffering because of it.
Since the turn of the year only one team, Arsenal, have finished a match against Palace with a higher xG than the Eagles. Yes, Palace even had a better xG total than runaway leaders Manchester City during the 0-0 draw. But in those seven matches, with 21 points on offer, they picked up eight points.
On reputation, Hodgson might have one of the best strikers in the Premier League, but on form he might not even warrant a place in the starting XI. There’s an argument to be made to suggest new signing Alexander Sørloth should displace him before the season comes to an end. It would be warranted.