Analysis: Why Crystal Palace's start to the season is not as bad as it seems

Crystal Palace are bottom of the Premier League after five games due to five successive defeats and no goals. Could it be that Palace are just being undone by poor finishing and a lack of fortune up front?

Analysis: Why Crystal Palace's start to the season is not as bad as it seems
Christian Benteke and Lee Chung-yong look dejected during the defeat to Burnley. Source | Getty Images.

Crystal Palace now have the unwanted record of being the first team in the history of English top-flight football to start a season with five goalless games.

The 0-1 loss to Southampton on Saturday afternoon saw Palace surpass 439 minutes without a single goal in the league and it could get even bleaker in the coming weeks.

Upcoming fixtures against Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea mean the London outfit could even break their own record of seven consecutive games without scoring - set in 1994/95.

Palace couldn’t score under Frank de Boer and have failed to hit to back of the net under Roy Hodgson so far. Is this down to bad finishing, poor fortune, awful luck or a collection of all three?

New era not gone to plan:

The appointment of Frank de Boer during the summer and initial promises to better the club’s style of play rightly caused optimism around Selhurst Park prior to the start of their fifth successive Premier League campaign.

After just five games, however, de Boer has already departed and Crystal Palace sit bottom of the Premier League without a point to their name.

Frank de Boer was relieved of his duties after just four league games. Source | Getty Images.
Frank de Boer was relieved of his duties after just four league games. Source | Getty Images.

Steve Parish and co. appointed former England boss Roy Hodgson in an attempt to change the team’s fortunes ahead of clashes with three of last season’s top six.

Hodgson has plenty to do and will have to do it quickly. Of all teams to lose in their first five Premier League outings, only one has survived.

The first task for Hodgson will be getting Palace on the scoresheet for the first time this season.

Expected Goals paint a picture:

Statistics can tell us many things and it will tell Hodgson that Palace’s performances really haven’t been that bad; no, honestly.

Using Michael Caley’s Expected Goals model, we can infer that Palace have been undone by a lack of good fortune and a severe amount of poor finishing.

If you are unaware of Expected Goals (xG), they are used figure out the number of goals that should have been scored by a team in a match. Every shot must be analysed and given an "Expected goal value" (EGV).

Against Huddersfield on the opening day, Palace saw everything that they are not. The newcomers had less xG than the hosts but, with the help of an own goal, still managed the score three times without reply.

Only against Liverpool have Palace had significantly less xG than their opposition. The only other game where the Eagles have had less xG was the defeat at home to Swansea. Crystal Palace, in other words, now have a positive xG differential but still no points and no goals.

Against Burnley, for example, the players missed a plethora of opportunities to draw level after conceding an early goal at Turf Moor. As you can see in the graphic below, Palace missed two huge chances in the second half - with Scott Dann’s header the biggest.

Palace missed huge chances against Burnley last week. Source | @Caley_Graphics.
Palace missed huge chances against Burnley last week. Source | @Caley_Graphics.

Yohan Cabaye came agonisingly close to scoring against Southampton as did Christian Benteke and Jason Puncheon, who saw their efforts well saved by Fraser Forster.

With 3.2 xG in their last two matches and 5.5 xG this season, Hodgson can be content that his team are doing the right things in the attacking third right up until the finish.

Benteke needs to start firing:

When asked about his side’s performance on Saturday, Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino first spoke of nullifying the threat of ‘Benteke and those around him’ before confirming he brought on Virgil van Dijk to combat the threat of the Belgian.

Palace relied heavily on Benteke last term with the former Liverpool striker having the most goals and most shots on target for the club last season.

His 40 attempts at goal across the 2016/17 campaign ranked 11th in the Premier League. It also equated to 29% of his team’s shots on target last term - second behind just Gylfi Sigurdsson with 34.5%.

This suggests that Palace were geared up to servicing one striker and this looks no different this time around.

If Hodgson is intending to rely on Benteke like his predecessors have before him, the 26-year-old has to do better in front of goal.

Benteke has missed the most 'big chances' in the league this season with five - just above Sergio Aguero with three.

Benteke forces Forster into a point-blank save. Source | Getty Images.
Benteke forces Forster into a point-blank save. Source | Getty Images.

He also tops many ‘Most xG without scoring’ tables and missed another two big opportunities to score at the weekend. His header 15 minutes in - according to InfoGol - had a scoring probability of 64%.

For a player who was perfectly clinical last season with 13 open play goals from 14.18 open play xG, the third highest in the division, Benteke’s start to the season has been most disappointing and he will have to improve if Palace can start dreaming of an upturn in results. 

Once the striker does find his form that has made him so lethal in the past, Palace should see these defeats turn into draws or wins. A lack of alternative options up front means a bad season for Benteke will result in an even worse season for his club - showcased by this start.  

Is there any hope for Palace?

Prior to Saturday’s 3.00pm kick-offs, Palace sat in eighth in the table when it came to Expected Points as per UnderStat.

The Premier League table based on Expected Points. Source | UnderStat.
The Premier League table based on Expected Points. Source | UnderStat.

Hodgson's first outing as manager of Crystal Palace, a club he has strong connections to, suggested further progress.

The 4-2-3-1 formation he deployed seemed to suit the side better than those used under de Boer and Ruben Loftus-Cheek subsequently shone in midfield.

They are, however, still rooted to the bottom of the league and are even more tangled in the relegation mire.

While statistics suggest that Palace can and will indeed do better, they will do nothing to appease fans if they continue this scoreless streak.

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