Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned
After keeping Tottenham at bay for much of the first half, a Dean Moxey handball gave the visitors a penalty which Roberto Soldado duly converted.
Spurs had chances to add to their lead, with Jermain Defoe and Gylfi Sigurdsson coming notably close.
Palace worked Andre Villas-Boas' side hard in the last 20 minutes, and might have sneaked an equalizer but for some outstanding goalkeeping from Hugo Lloris.
With the first match out of the way for both of these sides, here is a few things we will be taking away from this entertaining, season-opening encounter.
Spurs' New Signings Look Like They Will Settle Quickly
Andre Villas-Boas' four foreign recruits (thus far) this summer all begun their Tottenham careers with bright displays versus Crystal Palace.
Roberto Soldado will take most of the headlines following his expertly taken penalty winner. His working of the channels and good link-up play also stood out, though he will have livelier outings than this.
Nacer Chadli grew into the game following a quiet first-half marked by his near miss just prior to the interval. Thereafter he became more of a presence wide left, more frequently chancing runs into the box or towards goal.
This writer wondered in his preview for this match how ready Paulinho would be for the pace of the Premier League. Based on his showing against Palace, that concern should not amount to much.
The Brazil international worked hard to close down his midfield counterparts, and intelligently snuffed out attacks before they began. Tidy in possession, Paulinho also hinted at his attacking threat as he popped up in dangerous positions on more than one occasion.
Underlining Spurs' strength in midfield was second half substitute Etienne Capoue. The signing from Toulouse came on for the impressive Mousa Dembele and barely missed a beat.
Capoue was on hand to sweep up loose balls and win some timely tackles. Going forward his composure aided Spurs at a time when Palace were threatening to unsettle them with an upping of the intensity.
There will almost certainly be bumps along the road for all four of these players. So far, there seems no reason to suggest they will not overcome them.
Sigurdsson Intrigues in the Absence of Bale
With Gareth Bale absent for the time being, Gylfi Sigurdsson was given the nod to play in a position the Welshman might have otherwise filled.
Deployed in the hole behind Soldado upfront, Sigurdsson was a typically adept facilitator, bringing teammates into play well. The 23-year-old was careful in possession and augmented his time on the ball with skillful flourishes that were eye-catching as well as functional.
Sigurdsson was also one of Tottenham's biggest threats in attack.
In the first half he showed terrific awareness to turn his marker and fire a curling shot Julian Speroni did well to save. Later on he combined well with Soldado and Chadli to come close to scoring after finding himself space in the box.
Last season Clint Dempsey, and later Bale, were the two players Villas-Boas chiefly used in the central attacking midfield role. Sigurdsson did well out wide, but as shown here, he clearly revels in the greater involvement centrally.
He has work to do to nail down the position permanently, but should he continue to work like this he deserves that chance.
A regular starting spot can do a player wonders. Perhaps that will prove to be the case for Sigurdsson.
A Static Spurs Is Not a Good Thing
Even supremely fit Premier League players cannot be running constantly for 90 minutes. The flow of the game allows for moments for individuals to catch a breath and prepare for what is to come.
Sometimes Tottenham seem to embrace this concept a little too much. Especially when coming forward from the back, too many players in front of the ball are standing still.
Moving for the sake of it can be detrimental, upsetting the shape of the team or leaving space for the opposition to take advantage of.
Providing an option for a teammate, even with just a minor run of one or two yards, is no great risk or exertion though. Even if the ball does not come that player's way, his movement might have opened up a channel for something to happen elsewhere.
Spurs are a team that thrive when the ball is flowing, as they showed with several quick and incisive exchanges in the final third (particularly when their full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose got forward).
As with most things in football, it is a case of judging situations on a case-by-case basis. Still, for the most part, a static Spurs is not a good thing.
Jedinak Will Be Key in Helping Palace Stand Firm
This will hardly be revelatory to Crystal Palace fans, but their captain Mile Jedinak will be a hugely important player for them this season.
Jedinak stood toe-to-toe with the comparatively more glamorous Tottenham midfield. The visitors just edged this battle, but the Australian ensured it never got anywhere near becoming a one-sided affair.
Leading by example, Jedinak settled quickest among the Palace players. In stopping the likes of Dembele and Paulinho from dictating play, he allowed time for the Eagles to find their feet and they soon came into the game.
Tougher tests are to come, especially when they leave the hostile but familiar environment of Selhurst Park. Jedinak will be key in maintaining this urgency from the off so Palace are not overwhelmed early in matches.
They may have lost to Spurs, but they were never out of the game. That was in large part because of their skipper.
Palace Look in Good Shape but Could Do with a Bit More Sparkle
Eagles boss Ian Holloway will have been encouraged by several aspects of his team's performance against Tottenham.
From back to front they gave Villas-Boas' side a tough game. In addition to Jedinak, there was enough here to suggest Palace do have enough quality to get by in the Premier League.
Dwight Gayle was lively upfront. Though he did not get much in the way of clear-cut chances, his ability to get in behind the Spurs defense showcased his threat.
Kevin Phillips' enduring fitness and footballing brain showed he will still be a danger to defenses, while Aaron Wilbraham did not allow Spurs all their own way in the air.
Owen Garvan demonstrated class and composure in midfield, while veteran pair Danny Gabbidon and Julian Speroni's solid showings emphasized Palace will be no pushover at the back.
The collective effort that saw them achieve promotion last season does not look like it has dissipated over the summer. So long as Holloway can keep them all on the same path that should stand them in good stead.
A little more sparkle in the side would not go amiss, however.
Wilfried Zaha's departure to Manchester United robbed them of one player who could create a moment to truly liven proceedings. When fit, Yannick Bolasie will provide an element of that, but some extra creativity would not hurt.
Villas-Boas Has a Few Selection Headaches to Come
Villas-Boas may have let Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore leave, but Tottenham undoubtedly have enough depth in midfield.
As mentioned already, new signings Capoue, Chadli and Paulinho impressed against Palace, as too did others such as Sigurdsson and Dembele.
Given that Sandro and Lewis Holtby (as well as Bale) were absent today, and Tom Carroll and Andros Townsend were unused substitutes, it all points to Villas-Boas having a few selection headaches soon enough.
There is competition for places elsewhere in the Tottenham squad, but managing his midfield resources will give the Portuguese most pause for thought.
Thursday's Europa League meeting with Dinamo Tbilisi will be intriguing to say the least, as we see just how Villas-Boas attempts to juggle his options in midfield.
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