In Focus: Palace superstar has the Wil to succeed
Wilfried Zaha has made a brilliant start to the 2022-23 Premier League campaign, scoring three in as many games for Crystal Palace.
The Ivory Coast international has been one of the top flight’s best performers in 2022, with only Tottenham duo Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son outscoring him.
Zaha has always had the ability, but consistency has often been a weakness for the 29-year-old.
As Palace prepare to take on champions Manchester City on Saturday, we turn the spotlight on the former Manchester United menace.
Selhurst's top dog
Zaha has enjoyed nearly seven years in the blue and red of Palace, scoring 86 goals in 433 games.
Despite his hesitancy to help the team out defensively, the speedster has always been adored by the Eagles faithful due to his ability to put fans on the edge of their seats.
This was apparent in the recent 3-1 victory over Aston Villa, where Palace’s main man grabbed both the equaliser and second goal for the hosts as they fought back against Steven Gerrard’s side.
As the designated penalty taker due to Luka Milivojevic’s sporadic game time this year, Zaha is likely to challenge his season best of 14 top-flight strikes in the previous campaign.
The Ivorian has scored 11 goals in his last 16 Premier League appearances after hitting just 10 in 41 before his current streak.
And with his contract set to expire next summer, Patrick Vieira will be hoping Zaha signs on to stay at Palace beyond 2023.
Unique and unpredictable
Zaha has many great qualities that make him a nightmare for any defender.
His ability to use both feet marks him as one of the best close dribblers in Europe, if not the world.
It is rare that you will see the Ivory Coast international play the ball backwards — instead, Zaha likes to drive at players, often dancing past them with ease.
Last season, he averaged 2.3 successful dribbles per game in the Premier League, ranking him fifth in the division.
His carries into the final third are so dangerous that Zaha is undisputed as the league's most fouled player — winning 124 free-kicks for Palace in the 2021-22 campaign.
Previous seasons have demonstrated his lack of reliability in front of goal but he has been much improved since the turn of the year.
His three strikes in 2022-23 have come from eight shots, with six being on target, suggesting that Zaha is showing more quality in goalscoring positions.
Although his defensive work can be questioned — as he can often be found walking or not tracking back — Zaha’s attacking prowess cannot be questioned.
Backed by his boss
Zaha has often been painted as a villain by the media, with his attitude and frustration a key talking point whenever Palace suffer defeat.
However, his boss has praised the talent and stated that the forward improves his game when targeted by the opposition.
Speaking after the recent win against Villa, he said: "I loved his performance and don’t want him to change. He’s a fighter. When it’s tough he puts his sleeves up and is going into the fight.
"I think this is what he has to expect. The quality of his talent makes it really difficult for the opponent and sometimes they target him like they did today.
"I want him to be more calm but at times it’s really difficult. The referee was quite good today and that allowed him to stay into the game and play as well as he did."
Zaha’s discipline can be questioned, despite his manager’s support. The man born in Abidjan has picked up 44 yellow cards and two red cards in his Premier League tenure.
If he hopes to extend his rich vein of form, he will have to control his temper on the pitch.
More to come?
Top players are often linked with top clubs and despite Palace’s recent upturn in form across the domestic season, Zaha’s name has still dominated the papers.
His spell at United was short-lived and unsuccessful, but his maturity as a player over the last few years suggests he could thrive in a more competitive environment.
Other London clubs including Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal have all previously had an interest in the winger.
With his contract in South London ending in 2023, any fee for the marksman would be deflated to prevent him leaving for free.
Vieira has already expressed his desire to keep Zaha, but if a tempting offer makes its way to the Palace board, it may be hard to prevent a move from materialising.