The sight of Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semi-finals alongside Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City highlights the progress made at the club this season. Under Patrick Vieira, the Eagles have started to soar with this Sunday’s match at Wembley Stadium presenting them the chance to go even higher.
Of course, Palace will be underdogs against a Chelsea team that put six goals past Southampton last weekend, but there is good reason to believe Vieira has the system and players to get the better of the reigning European champions. The Selhurst Park outfit could be tricky opponents for Chelsea.
With Vieira at the helm, Crystal Palace play a brand of dynamic, exciting football. The Eagles are technically able with the ball at their feet, but their game is about moving possession into dangerous areas of the pitch as quickly as possible. Once the ball is in those areas, Palace have players to make things happen.
This approach was evident in the recent 3-0 win over Arsenal. While the Gunners controlled possession for much of the contest, it was in the moments of quick transition that Palace did the real damage. Set up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, the Eagles carried genuine threat through Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Zaha.
Zaha, of course, has been a key figure at Selhurst Park for a number of years. In the past, though, the Ivory Coast international has been asked to produce something out of nothing. Now, he has a support system around him and teammates who can share some of the goalscoring and creative burden in the attacking third.
Michael Olise is one of those players to have joined Zaha at the creative hub of Vieira’s team with the 20-year-old currently enjoying a breakthrough season in the Premier League following a £9 million move from Reading last summer. Currently sidelined through injury, Olise might not feature against Chelsea, but embodies a new approach for a club focusing on the future.
On paper, there’s no doubting who will be the stronger team in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, but Ayew and Zaha could have a lot of space to exploit in behind Chelsea’s wing backs. This is where Thomas Tuchel’s team have been vulnerable of late with their back three unsure of their positioning when pulled out to the flanks.
Connor Gallagher’s absence will weaken Crystal Palace with the talented midfielder unable to face his parent club due to the details of his loan agreement, but Vieira will still have Eberechi Eze to act as a link between the central unit and his attack. He also has other attacking options like Odsonne Edouard to act as a more direct funnel into the box.
If Chelsea play to the best of their ability, they will most likely sweep aside Crystal Palace and progress to the FA Cup final. Tuchel’s team have, however, recently shipped four goals at home to Brentford and three goals at home to Real Madrid. Defensively, they are nowhere near as solid as they were for the majority of 2021.
Vieira is putting the groundwork in for something special at Selhurst Park. Under Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace only had short-term ambitions. Season-on-season, the target was merely to stay in the Premier League. This, however, has changed since the arrival of Vieira. Palace want to become something more.
A passage through to this season’s FA Cup final would certainly represent something more. Crystal Palace’s development to this point has been signposted – just ask Arsenal and Manchester City who have recently run into Vieira’s team – and the odds ahead of Sunday’s match might be more in their favour than most realise.