It seems every transfer window Crystal Palace’s star man Wilfried Zaha is linked with a move away from Selhurst Park. And with the January mercato freshly opened, things haven’t changed, as some big names have already been linked to signing Zaha.
With the likes of AC Milan, Arsenal, Everton, Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco all reportedly interested, his manager, Roy Hodgson, was quick to dampen the rumours. “There has been so much speculation regarding Wilf over the years that I tend to let those concerns disappear, as they often do,” he explained.
“Wilf’s good and it doesn’t surprise me that there’s clubs out there who would like to sign him, but a lot of things have to be put in place before a player leaves a club.
“I’m just happy at the moment that Wilf is playing as he is, displaying his discipline and concentration and his passion for football and the club, and unless I’m given a reason to think otherwise, I expect that to keep going.”
Seeing as all signs point to Monaco adding to their attacking ranks due to the impending departure of Henry Onyekuru, Zaha would be a fantastic acquisition. Such a uniquely talented and gifted player who can produce moments of magic out of nowhere with the ball at his feet, Niko Kovac would love having Zaha at his disposal.
Unquestionably one of the elite dribblers in European football, something the 28-year-old’s proven emphatically over the years, he’s a nightmare for defenders to contain.
Capable of beating foes in a multiplicity of ways, his searing acceleration, superb top speed, agility, nifty ball control and repertoire of skills have been vital towards his success. Possessing a catalogue of maneuvers to outfox markers, which includes stepovers, roulettes, nutmegs, feints, body swerves, stop gos and smart changes of pace and direction, not many defenders have his measure.
By undertaking his dribbles at such electric speed, this complicates things further, for defenders struggle to react quickly enough to stop him. Indeed, this aspect of his game has been especially notable when he cuts infield from the wing to pass or shoot.
No matter if he’s deployed centrally or out wide, his ingenuity and unpredictability cause constant headaches, for he can either weave out of danger in tight spaces, wreak havoc in transition or thrive in 1v1 situations out wide, where he can pick up the ball in oceans of space and in a forward facing body shape.
A valuable byproduct of his ball carrying prowess comes from how the elusive Zaha draws fouls in dangerous areas for his team in and around the final third.
Fast of mind and foot, the fact he’s attempted the seventh most dribbles in the Premier League this season (8.14 per game), ranks fourth for offensive duels (18.52 pg) and 17th for progressive runs (2.55) is a testament to his quality on the ball.
Switching the focus to his passing, and Zaha’s proven what a force he can be, for he can create chances smartly with through balls, crosses, cutbacks and neat dinks. Not afraid to take risks to break the likes or send teammates through, his confidence to back himself has been a highlight even if he can turn the ball over sometimes.
The assist in the graphic below encapsulates his class, as he shrewdly bypasses four defenders to pick out Jordan Ayew inside the box.
Using many parts of his foot and boasting good vision, Zaha’s one and two touch link play, that includes some sharp flicks and backheels, has been effective in breaking down backlines and getting the ball into teammates in better positions.
Zaha translates his ambition into his shooting, where he’s parlayed power, finesse and placement to score some amazing goals. Striking some belters from range, technically flawless volleys, tidy side footed finishes and clinical efforts 1v1 and inside the box, Zaha poses a massive threat.
Having impressively scored eight EPL goals already and 65 at Palace all up, this compartment of his game is so important, for finding free scoring, versatile attackers of his ilk can be quite rare.
While his work with the ball draws the headlines, his movement is at a high level too. Proficient in this area, Zaha’s danger is amplified by his intelligent runs in behind, where he picks his moments before using his searing speed to pull away from adversaries. To maximise his effectiveness, he’ll perform double movements to unbalance trackers, exploit the blindside and take advantage of gaps between markers or if they’re preoccupied.
These same principles apply to when he’s pushing into the box, as the Ivory Coast international is adept at getting into promising locations to be an option.
Furthermore, Zaha’s ability to drop deep and link play has been notable, where he coherently times his checks towards the ball so he can gain separation from his man to strategically overload midfield or make room for colleagues.
When Arsenal boss, Mikel Artera, was asked his thoughts on Zaha, his comments summed up what a fine player he is. “I think he’s a terrific player and I think the impact he’s had in the Premier League in the last few years has been phenomenal,” Arteta gleamed.
“His ability to create chances on his own is unique. We know Wilf and the type of talent he is. When he gets isolated in one-on-one situations, we know what he can do.”
Some extra numbers of note come from his 4.29 passes inside the box pg, 2.36 progressive passes pg, 1.74 crosses pg and 36 shots on goal (11th most in the EPL).
With a battle set to ensue for his signature, it’ll be fascinating to follow if he stays at Palace or departs for pastures new this January.
Experienced at the highest level and set to command a hefty transfer fee, the race will be fierce for Palace’s star man, as the Eagles will be doing everything in their power to keep hold of him while the big clubs circle with intent.