With Crystal Palace’s 2020/21 season now over, we can look back on a memorable campaign in south London.
Last summer, the Eagles started on the backfoot and went through an extensive manager search while also laying off 11 aging first-team players at the end of their contracts. When Patrick Vieira was finally appointed, he was the clear favorite of many players to become the league’s first manager to lose his job.
But thanks to excellent recruitment through the transfers department, a new, attractive style of play introduced by the coaching staff and a fair but determined manager with high expectations of his players, Palace have thrived rather than failed.
READ MORE: Zaha, Guehi, Gallagher, Mitchell, Andersen: Crystal Palace’s contenders for player of the season
The team finished 12th in the Premier League – two places better than the previous season under Roy Hodgson – and even reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the fifth time in club history. Palace have been lauded for their exciting football by commentators and pundits alike, while genuine optimism has replaced the apathy that grew in the fan base towards the end of Hodgson’s tenure.
It hasn’t been sunshine all the time, but given the upheaval at the club, Vieira and his side have produced enough memorable results in the first few weeks of the season to celebrate the season as a huge success. Under, football.londonPalace reporter Mark Wyatt lists his top five performances the Eagles have had this season.
5. Watford 1 Crystal Palace 4
In terms of entertainment value alone, this match at Vicarage Road would probably rank above most other competitors, but it lands fifth on the strength of the opponent further up the list. Palace came into this game looking to get back on track in the Premier League after a slow start to 2022 after they went six straight games without taking three points once. The clash with Roy Hodgson added another subplot to the game, with Palace getting a chance to prove to their former boss how they had evolved since his departure.
And they did just that, taking the lead after 15 minutes as Jean-Philippe Mateta – a Hodgson signing last January – gave the Eagles the lead. Moussa Sissoko quickly equalized from a corner but Palace went into the break with a one-goal advantage restored by Conor Gallagher, whose mesmerizing touch and finish following a cross from Tyrick Mitchell five minutes before the break Ben Foster in the Watford goal left on the wrong foot.
The goal sucked the life out of the Hornets, who were poor in the second 45 minutes as Palace turned the tide. Wilfried Zaha, who was so often the hero for Hodgson at Selhurst Park, scored two late goals to secure the win, first converting a Jordan Ayew cross with a clean finish before turning in a smart solo goal in the final moments who scored the break.
Victory at Watford then sparked a rebound in form, with Palace adding two more wins and two draws in the four Premier League games that followed to propel them top of the table and break away from the relegation battle brewing among them.
4 Crystal Palace 3 Tottenham Hotspur 0
This is the game where it all came together for the first time under Vieira. It gave Palace fans a glimpse of what was to come and secured their first home win 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 dispute with Zaha, who received two yellow cards within five minutes of the second half, ending ten-man Nuno Espirito Santo’s side against an energetic Eagles side to leave.
It wasn’t until the 76th minute that Palace took the lead via Zaha from the penalty spot, but the truth was they controlled the game well before Tanganga received his marching orders. However, the red card brought the inevitable, which was the home side finding even more space between Tottenham’s lines and punishing them repeatedly.
The 84th-minute substitution of Odsonne Edouard proved a fatal blow as debutant Hugo Lloris scooped the ball out of his own net just 28 seconds after his first arrival on the Selhurst Park lawn. That he then doubled his tally for the game in 90 minutes only made the opportunity all the sweeter as Palace fans savored every moment of the full-time whistle, serenading their newly formed side back in the tunnel after the win.
And it wasn’t just the strikers who impressed. Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen kept England captain Harry Kane calm throughout the game and showed early signs of a partnership that would prove key in Palace conceding a record-low 46 Premier League goals throughout the campaign. For the importance of this game and the atmosphere it created at Selhurst Park, this game has to be in the top five.
3. Crystal Palace 4 Everton 0
Of all the memories of reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup this season, beating Everton at home in the Round of 16 was the most complete performance on the pitch. Palace started on the backfoot as the Toffees built the early pressure but soaked it up before taking control and firing past England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford four times to send the Eagles to Wembley.
Vieira named an attacking side that featured Wilfried Zaha, Conor Gallagher, Michael Olise and Ebere Eze all together in the starting XI for the first time, with Jean-Philippe Mateta complimenting all four and bringing the game together as a central striker. The plan worked perfectly, with all five players involved in at least one, if not more, of the four goals scored.
Olise’s cross for Guehi started things on 25 minutes before Mateta’s instinctive finish after a Zaha cutback placed Palace firmly in the driver’s seat in the tie. Cheered on by arguably the best atmosphere generated at Selhurst Park this season, Zaha and Will Hughes then sealed victory in the second half to cap off a brilliant afternoon in the sunshine.
After securing a place in the semi-finals at Wembley, Palace fans were in full voice as they applauded and sang for their players off the pitch, and stayed in their seats afterwards to enjoy every inch of the fantastic result against the Toffees.
2. Manchester City 0 Crystal Palace 2
After peeling a scalp back in September with a win over Spurs, Palace upped the ante in October when 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 after four straight draws and showed Vieira a real tactical player.
Against his former employers, who he knew would dominate possession, Vieira appointed Wilfried Zaha as central striker and changed his formation to keep the game as compact as possible, leaving City’s creative players with insufficient space to to act it moved wide to Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish, Palace defended their box comfortably and were patient.
When they could, they pressed from the front as a team, resulting in Gallagher robbing Aymeric Laporte of the ball and Zaha scoring the opener after just six minutes. The defender was then shown a red card for a professional foul on Zaha in first-half injury time, with the Eagles holding out in the second half before snapping a second late after Gallagher finished Olise’s dismissal.
The win was special but also important for Vieira, who had seen his side lose the lead late in games in the build-up to their game at the Etihad. Zaha’s goal marked the fourth time in five games they’d led – but they hadn’t won any of the previous three. The win at City showed Palace had what it takes to defend a lead, which they would do again a week later in the 2-0 win over Wolves at Selhurst Park.
1. Crystal Palace 3 Arsenal 0
April’s 3-0 win over Arsenal at Selhurst Park was, in almost every respect, the game where everything came together perfectly for Crystal Palace and Vieira. The Eagles played their best 90 minutes of the season, cheered on by a deafening crowd and against a team they’d only beaten once at home in the past 30 years.
The fact that the game took place on a Monday night under the lights and in front of Sky Sports cameras made it even sweeter as former Gunners legend Vieira kicked every ball along with his players on the touchline. Palace didn’t need much possession – they finished the game with just 31 percent possession – because they were so cool when they had possession, shooting five of their six attempts on target and scoring three of them.
Mateta got going when he headed past Aaron Ramsdale from close range after Joachim Andersen forced the ball over the goal. The Denmark international then provided the assist again as he separated Gabriel and Nuno Tavares with a long ball that Jordan Ayew held before slamming home his second goal of the season.
Zaha then won a second-half penalty and converted it to put the result well out of the visitors’ reach, while Arsenal looked lethargic as they sank to defeat, dropping vital points in their hunt for Champions League football. It was a special night for Palace, who recently drew 0-0 with Manchester City at Selhurst Park, and everything came together on the pitch.