With Crystal Palace’s 2020/21 season now over we can reflect on what has been a memorable campaign in south London.
Last summer the Eagles started on the backfoot, going through an extensive managerial search while simultaneously releasing 11 ageing first team players at the end of their contracts. When Patrick Vieira was eventually appointed, he was many punters’ odds-on favorite to be the first manager in the league to lose his job.
But thanks to excellent recruitment from the transfer department, a new, attractive style of play set in place by the coaching staff and a fair but firm manager with high expectations of his players, Palace have flourished instead of floundered.
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The team finished 12th in the Premier League table – two places higher than they managed the season before under Roy Hodgson – and even reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup for just the fifth time in the club’s history. Palace have drawn praise from commentators and pundits alike for their exciting brand of football, while genuine optimism has replaced the apathy that grew within the fanbase towards the tail end of Hodgson’s tenure.
It hasn’t been sunshine all the time, but Vieira and his team have delivered enough memorable results for the season to go down as a big success, given the upheaval at the club during the early weeks of the campaign. Below, football.london‘s Palace reporter Mark Wyatt names his top five performances the Eagles have put in this season.
5. Watford 1 Crystal Palace 4
On entertainment value alone this match at Vicarage Road would probably rank above most of the other contenders, but it comes in lower at number five due to the strength of the opposition higher up the list. Palace came into this game desperate to get back to winning ways in the Premier League after a slow start to 2022 saw them go six straight games without taking three points once. Coming up against Roy Hodgson added another subplot to the game, with Palace getting the chance to prove to their former boss how they had come on since his departure.
And they did just that, taking the lead after 15 minutes as Jean-Philippe Mateta – a signing Hodgson made last January – put the Eagles ahead. Moussa Sissoko quickly drew parity from a corner but Palace went into the break with their one-goal advantage restored by Conor Gallagher, whose mesmeric touch and finish from a Tyrick Mitchell cross five minutes from the break left Ben Foster flat-footed in the Watford goal .
The goal sucked the life from the Hornets, who were poor for the second 45 minutes as Palace turned the screw. Wilfried Zaha, who so often was the hero for Hodgson at Selhurst Park, scored two late goals to secure the victory, converting a cross from Jordan Ayew with a neat finish first before adding a smart solo goal on the break in the final moments.
The win at Watford subsequently sparked an upturn in form, with Palace getting two further wins and two draws from their subsequent four Premier League matches to push them up the table and firmly away from the relegation dogfight brewing beneath them.
4. Crystal Palace 3 Tottenham Hotspur 0
This is the game where everything came together under Vieira for the very first time. It gave Palace fans a glimpse of what was to come and ensured a first home league victory over Spurs for the first time in over six years. The visitors weren’t helped by Japhet Tanganga’s ridiculous red card for his role in a spat with Zaha, picking up two yellow cards in five minutes during the second half to leave Nuno Espirito Santo’s side with ten men against an energetic Eagles side.
It took until the 76th minute for Palace to take the lead via Zaha from the penalty spot, but in truth, they had controlled the game long before Tanganga was given his marching orders. The red card brought on the inevitable though, which was the home side finding even more space between the Tottenham lines and punishing them repeatedly.
Odsonne Edouard’s introduction on 84 minutes proved to be the killer blow, as the debutant had Hugo Lloris picking the ball out of his own net just 28 seconds after arriving on the Selhurst Park pitch for the first time. That he then doubled his tally for the game on 90 minutes just made the occasion even sweeter, with Palace fans savouring every moment at the full-time whistle by serenading their new-look side back down the tunnel following the win.
And it was not just the forwards who impressed, with Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen keeping England captain Harry Kane quiet for the entire game and showing early signs of a partnership that was to prove key to Palace conceding a club record-low 46 Premier League goals across the campaign. For what this match signified and the atmosphere it helped conjure up at Selhurst Park, this game has to be in the top five.
3. Crystal Palace 4 Everton 0
Of all the memories of this season’s run to the FA Cup semi-finals, the last-eight win over Everton at home was the most complete performance on the pitch of the lot. Palace started on the back foot as the Toffees piled on the early pressure but soaked it up before taking control and firing four past England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to send the Eagles to Wembley.
Vieira named an attacking side that saw Wilfried Zaha, Conor Gallagher, Michael Olise and Ebere Eze all start together for the first time, with Jean-Philippe Mateta complimenting all four and linking play together as the central striker. The plan worked perfectly, with all five players playing a part in at least one of, if not more, of the four goals scored.
Olise’s cross for Guehi kicked things off after 25 minutes before Mateta’s instinctive finish from a Zaha cutback put Palace firmly in the driving seat in the tie. Roared on by arguably the best atmosphere generated at Selhurst Park this season, Zaha and Will Hughes then sealed the win in the second half to cap a brilliant afternoon in the sunshine.
With a place in the semi-finals at Wembley secured, Palace fans were in full voice as they applauded and sang their players off the pitch, staying in their seats afterwards to soak in every inch of what had been a fantastic result against the Toffees.
2. Manchester City 0 Crystal Palace 2
Having already pulled off a scalp by beating Spurs in September, Palace went one better in October as they went to the home of the Premier League champions and returned with three points and a clean sheet. The 2-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad came off the back of four straight draws and showed Vieira as a real tactician.
Against his former employers, whom he knew would dominate possession of the ball, Vieira named Wilfried Zaha as a central striker and switched his formation to make the game as compact as possible, stopping City’s creative players from having enough space to operate in. When City switched it wide to Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish, Palace were comfortable defending their box and being patient.
When they could, they pressed from the front as a team, leading to Gallagher robbing the ball from Aymeric Laporte and putting Zaha away for the opener after just six minutes. The defender was then shown a red card for a professional foul on Zaha in first-half stoppage time, with the Eagles holding firm during the second half before snatching a second late on after Gallagher finished off Olise’s lay-off.
The win was special but also important for Vieira, who had watched his side give away leads late in games in the build-up to their match at the Etihad. Zaha’s goal was the fourth time in five matches they had been in front – but they had failed to win any of the previous three. The win at City showed Palace had what it took to defend a lead, which they would then do again a week later when beating Wolves 2-0 at Selhurst Park.
Crystal Palace 3 Arsenal 0
In almost every sense, the 3-0 win over Arsenal at Selhurst Park in April was the match where everything came together perfectly for Crystal Palace and Vieira. The Eagles played their best 90 minutes of the season, roared on by a deafening crowd and against a side they’d only beaten once before at home in the previous 30 years.
That game took place on a Monday night under the lights and in front of the Sky Sports cameras was even sweeter as former Gunners legend Vieira kicked every ball along with his players while on the sidelines. Palace did not need too much of the ball – they finished the game having only had 31 per cent possession – because they were so clinical when they did have it, firing five out of their six efforts on target and scoring with three of them.
Mateta got things started when he headed past Aaron Ramsdale from close range after Joachim Andersen forced the ball across goal. The Danish international was then provider again when he split Gabriel and Nuno Tavares with a long ball that Jordan Ayew latched onto before firing home his second goal of the season.
Zaha then won a penalty in the second half and converted it to put the result well beyond the visitors’ reach, with Arsenal looking lethargic as they sank to defeat and dropped vital points in their hunt for Champions League football. For Palace, who had only recently drawn 0-0 with Manchester City at Selhurst Park, it was a special evening where everything clicked on the pitch.