Watford 0-0 Crystal Palace
Bonus Points: Vicente Guaita x3 (£5.0m), Martin Kelly x2 (£4.2m), Gary Cahill x2 (£4.5m)
The stock of Crystal Palace defenders continues to rise as they kept a third clean in a row at Watford on Saturday afternoon.
The Eagles’ total of six shutouts this season is bettered only by Leicester City so far and they still have favourable fixtures on the horizon, including Brighton (home), Newcastle (away), West Ham (home), Southampton (away) and Norwich (away).
Martin Kelly (£4.2m) and Vicente Guaita (£5.0m) are likely to be the chief beneficiaries of that run from a Fantasy perspective as they both added bonus points against Watford. Goalkeeper Guaita has now scored eight points or more in each of his last three outings too.
Palace’s achievements at the back have been made all the more impressive considering recent defensive and disciplinary issues they have had to overcome in the process.
They kept Bournemouth out in midweek with a number of absences at centre-back and came into Gameweek 16 with similar issues.
Mamadou Sakho (£5.0m) was sent off on Tuesday evening, earning a three-match suspension in the process, while Patrick van Aanholt (£5.5m) sustained a potentially long-term hamstring injury at Selhurst Park that night.
With Joel Ward (£4.4m) also out until January with a knee problem, it meant Roy Hodgson went to Watford with no recognised full-backs, versatile options Kelly and Jeffrey Schlupp (£5.5m) deputising on the right and left respectively.
The Palace manager was boosted by the return to full fitness of Gary Cahill (£4.5m), who started alongside James Tomkins (£5.0m), and Scott Dann (£4.3m), who was named among the substitutes, but the injuries still continued to pile up as make-shift left-back Schlupp had to be replaced by centre-back/defensive midfielder Jairo Riedewald (£4.5m) at half-time having picked up a muscular injury.
“All these muscle injuries have to be assessed and the doctors won’t give you any idea at the moment to the extent of it, but it was forced upon us.” – Roy Hodgson
Despite the ongoing issues, Palace continued to defend well against Watford, with Riedewald, operating very well in a position that he is not used to playing in.
“We were obliged to put Jaïro in, and he did exceptionally well in a position that he certainly hasn’t played many games for us in, and to come in, in the second half and play a Watford team who play the ball forward quickly and play with wingers and he coped very well. We were fortunate that happened because we really have been so unlucky because at the start of the season we said we don’t want injuries at right and left-back because we need [Joel] Ward and Patrick van Aanholt there all the time; we didn’t get that.” – Roy Hodgson
Palace’s best defensive asset at Vicarage Road was Cahill, whose last-ditch tackle on Ismaïla Sarr (£6.2m) was his most vital contribution.
His return to fitness should not be underestimated as Palace continue to face favourable opposition over the Christmas period.
“It would be easy to say I am surprised (at Cahill’s performance), but I am not that surprised, because I knew how good a player he is. He was a regular for four years in my England team, so I knew how good he was. What I perhaps didn’t know quite so well was how it had gone for him at Chelsea, when he didn’t play as many games. So there was that element and not knowing 100 per cent if he would be the same Gary Cahill I knew from three years ago, but of course, he is.” – Roy Hodgson
However, Palace’s attacking assets are still struggling to match-up to their defensive colleagues in terms of Fantasy potential.
After scoring in back-to-back matches in Gameweeks 13 and 14, it’s now two blanks in a row for Wilfried Zaha (£6.8m).
While you could make a case that Palace were limited in attack against Brighton by Sakho’s early red card, they did not have such mitigating circumstances at Watford.
In truth, the Eagles provided very little attacking threat, Zaha epitomising that perfectly by not once registering a shot on goal. The fact that he was unable to do so against a poor Watford side is unlikely to endear Fantasy managers to him even if the schedule is appealing.
That said, Hodgson did make a point of highlighting the attention Zaha received from Watford players on Saturday afternoon, the Ivory Coast international the most-fouled player.
“It was pretty clear in the first half they were going to mark him tightly, and there is nothing wrong with that, I fully understand that, and if I had been the opposition manager, I also would have been making certain that he didn’t get much time and space.” – Roy Hodgson
James McArthur (£5.2m) and Jordan Ayew (£5.1m) were the two Crystal Palace players who came the closest to scoring.
Midfield man McArthur found himself free on the left in the first half but could not even test Ben Foster (£4.8m) with his effort, dragging it wide.
In the second period, Ayew drifted from his centre-forward berth onto the right flank, got around Adam Masina (£4.3m) with a stepover and rifled a shot over the bar.
In truth, it was Watford who looked the more likely to score than the visitors. Yes, Palace defended better than their hosts but the Hornets still created better chances.
“The first half was quite even but in the second half we were the ones on the front foot, and we pushed them back for large periods of the game. We didn’t really get any clear-cut chances which we looked at and it was a bit disappointing, but it was a great performance, the lads gave absolutely everything and I’m sure we’ll go again next week.” – Hayden Mullins
In the second half, some head-tennis in midfield, helped along by Troy Deeney (£6.2m), who was making his second start in a row since coming back from injury, set Gerard Deulofeu (£6.1m) on a run through the middle. The former Everton man could only place his effort wide of Guaita’s goal.
Late-on, a rare error from Kelly gifted the ball to Andre Gray (£5.6m), triggering something of a goalmouth scramble.
Tomkins’ tackle only went as far as Deeney, who scuffed his shot. Sarr managed to get on the end of the loose ball but Guaita smothered it to secure the point and clean sheet for Palace.
With Nigel Pearson appointed as the Watford manager on Friday, it was too late in the week for him to have much impact on selection and tactics. Therefore, it must be said that there is only a limited amount we can glean from the Hornets’ latest outing moving forward.
“(Nigel) just said a few words with the lads, he introduced himself, went around the group and shook everyone’s hands. He had a few words to say just before the boys went out which was brilliant. I think one of the reasons the club appointed him is they know his pedigree, he’s a top manager and he’s got a good group of players, which is brilliant as well.” – Hayden Mullins
Watford XI (4-2-3-1): Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Kabasele, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré (Chalobah 78′); Deulofeu, Pereyra (A Gray 77′), Sarr; Deeney.
Crystal Palace XI (4-5-1): Guaita; Schlupp (Riedewald 46′), Cahill, Tomkins, M Kelly; Zaha, McArthur, Milivojevic, Kouyaté (McCarthy 83′), Townsend (Benteke 73′); Ayew.
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