Wilfried Zaha

'Everything Goes Through Zaha For Palace'

James Benge, the Senior Writer at Football.London, believes Crystal Palace will arrive at King Power Stadium on Saturday still hopeful of securing European qualification.
More on this story...

- Football.London writer James Benge previews Saturday's clash with Crystal Palace (3pm kick-off)
- Benge says Wilfried Zaha is the visitors' danger man at King Power Stadium
- The Eagles have a commendable record against the Foxes on Filbert Way over previous years
- Live coverage of the clash is available from 2pm on LCFC TV's new City On The Sofa show

Following Monday's 1-0 defeat by Burnley at Selhurst Park, the Eagles currently sit 12th in the Premier League standings, leaving them five points adrift of seventh-placed Sheffield United. 

Benge, who follows Palace closely, expects Roy Hodgson to name a full-strength starting XI to face Leicester, who the south London side have defeated on their last two trips to Filbert Way.

"It's a tough one because I would say they don't necessarily think the European hopes are over," he told LCFC TV this week. "We've seen bigger clubs dropping a lot of points of late. They'll look at Arsenal or Spurs and think those are teams they can catch. Even after the defeat to Burnley, Roy Hodgson was saying: 'Look, we're not giving up on trying to qualify for Europe'.

"It's obviously become much more difficult and I think that was a moment that could have swung the season in a different direction and they might have been looking at a European charge.

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Roy Hodgson
Roy Hodgson

Eagles manager Roy Hodgson believes Palace still have a chance to qualify for Europe.

"I think, normally, in this sort of scenario, we'd see a manager blooding a lot of young players, giving youth a chance. It's quite a tough one to work out with Hodgson and it's not really in his nature.

"He had a lot of interesting young players on the bench on Monday night at Selhurst Park and he just did not turn to them. I think you're going to see the the strongest Palace team, it's just whether they play up to the levels we know they're capable of reaching and I'm sure Leicester fans know they're capable of reaching."

That record in Leicester, meanwhile, is something which will give the Eagles confidence in Saturday's behind-closed-doors encounter and Benge believes their playing style is suited to playing City.

"It's a phenomenal record," he continued. "Leicester is one of those teams that, when Palace plays them, it allows them to play as the best version of themselves; hard running on the counter attack, put a few men behind the ball, soak up pressure and then you've got Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew and players like that who can really punish you if you commit too many forward.

"The question is: can Zaha can get the ball quickly to other players that can make a difference? That could be someone like James McArthur, or Benteke but it's still the case that if you quieten Zaha, you quieten Palace.

James Benge Football.London

"Part of that revolves around Christian Benteke being fit. As much as he's not the sort of striker he was at Aston Villa or even early in his Liverpool career, he's perfect board to bounce plays off.

"He brings the best out of Zaha and the other players on the counter attack high up the pitch as well. If he's not there, that's a really big blow for Palace.

"They just weren't the same with Ayew through the middle on Monday night. They would benefit a lot from a more physical presence, particularly against [Çağlar] Söyüncü and [Jonny] Evans. If Benteke's there, they have a real threat on the counter and Leicester fans will know as well as anyone the damage Zaha can sometimes do on his own."

Isolating Zaha's threat and dealing with it will be key to City's chances of securing a positive result against Palace on Saturday, Benge believes.

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Erik Peters
Erik Peters

Palace suffered a damaging 1-0 home defeat by Burnley on Monday night.

"He's carrying a bit of an injury," he added. "Even though he played the full 90 against Burnley, it was clear, there was something not quite there, where he was concerned, but he is the talisman. What's really apparent is that everything goes through him. He will draw two or three defenders from the opposition just to deal with him. You can't leave a right-back one vs. one against Zaha.

"The question is: can Zaha can get the ball quickly to other players that can make a difference? That could be someone like James McArthur, or Benteke but it's still the case that if you quieten Zaha, you quieten Palace.

"It's not not guaranteed, because they can beat you at set pieces, they can beat you with Ayew, who has been fantastic this season. If you're Brendan Rodgers, if you're any manager, you game plan around Zaha because he's one of the best players in the league, still."

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