Wilfried Zaha slowly improving and recapturing his old spark at Crystal Palace

by Sam Peoples

Not much has been written about Wilfried Zaha’s loan spell at Crystal Palace and how he is getting on this season, so we had a chat with the editor of Crystal Palace website Hopkin Looking to Curl One to find out the latest.

Hello. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I run the Crystal Palace FC blog, Hopkin Looking To Curl One. It’s been active since early 2012, offering news and views on everything going on at the club.

What are your thoughts on Zaha? How do you think he has done since re-joining Crystal Palace?

Wilf’s return to the club was trumpeted as the homecoming of a hero, thanks to his rise through our academy set-up and subsequent form for the first-team. In truth, he has struggled to hit the same heights, thanks in part to what appears to be a lack of confidence in his own game, mixed with the fine form of Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon. He’s slowly but surely recapturing his old spark, though.

“He’s slowly but surely recapturing his old spark, though.”

How many starts has he had? How many times has he been brought on as an impact substitute? Which role suits him better now, as a starter or an impact substitute?

Wilf has made six starts in total following last weekend’s game against Spurs, with three of his appearances coming from the bench. It’s difficult to define what his best role is as Jason Puncheon offers us such a different style that Wilf’s play can often throw opponents off their stride when he’s introduced to a game. Similarly, as was the case against Tottenham, he can still cause defenders real problems from the start.

“As has always been the case with Wilf and Palace, the rumours of an attitude problem are something of a myth peddled by the media.”

His last season was a bit stop-start. He never got a chance in the first team at United and had a loan to Cardiff where he failed to impress. How is his attitude now? How is his willingness to play for his old club?

As has always been the case with Wilf and Palace, the rumours of an attitude problem are something of a myth peddled by the media. Perhaps it’s his demeanor on the pitch or the fact that he remains slightly immature off it but we’ve never had any problems with him.

He wants to play, wants to be loved and needs a comforting arm around the shoulder from time to time but having had his confidence hugely knocked over the last year or so, he’s gradually clawing back his old spark.

Has he improved since he re-joined Palace? Or has his progress stagnated and is just the same since he joined United according to you?

Wilf’s game revolves around confidence. It always has and always will. There were questions raised about whether he had the right mentality for a club of United’s size but if he were to have felt valued and trusted by David Moyes, his performances would have been good enough. His ability has never been in question and in many ways he just needs to know that he won’t be lambasted when his natural flamboyance doesn’t pay off instantly. At United, he was expected to be the finished article instantly. He’s still very raw.

What do most Palace fans think of him? Still the fan-favourite? 

“He has one goal this season which came in the final minute away at Newcastle to earn us a point. On that day, he was practically unplayable whilst at other times he has struggled to find his stride.”

Zaha will always be adored by the vast majority of our supporters. He is the embodiment of what the academy means; naturally talented, confident and desperate to prove people wrong. It would take something dramatic for him to ever lose his status as a fan favourite in South London.

How many goals and assists does he have this season? Does your attack look more potent with him on the pitch or without him? Does he perform his defensive duties well?

He has one goal this season which came in the final minute away at Newcastle to earn us a point. On that day, he was practically unplayable whilst at other times he has struggled to find his stride.

It’s never easy to predict which version of him will turn up from week to week or even from half to half. He is working hard on his defensive efforts and at White Hart Lane in particular he was doing all he could to track back but it’s not an aspect of the game that comes naturally to him.

He has got a good set of skills but it looked like he had troubles with his decision making with respect to the final ball. Does he still have similar problems or is he showing improvement?

He’s working very hard at cutting down on the tricks and flicks in favour of a consistent end product and in fairness to him, it is working. Thanks to the lack of an out and out proven finisher at the head of our side, his efforts are often being wasted but in January, should we sign the striker we need, you should see him getting more assists.

Has Zaha said anything worth noting to the press/media regarding his future?

Wilf is an extremely shy lad and shuns any sort of comment in the media if given the chance. Obviously, his ideal path from here would be to return to United and play a huge part in a treble winning side but in life, things seldom go to plan.

Regardless of his hopes for the future, I get the sense that if United aren’t desperate for him to return, he’ll happily remain at Selhurst Park for the foreseeable future.

Do you want him to be signed up on a permanent deal at the end of this loan spell? 

I would love to see Zaha return on a permanent basis at the end of the season, partly due to his ability with the ball and partly as a direct result of the shared history he has with our club. We look after our own at Palace and in Wilf’s case, we all feel incredibly attached to him wherever he plays.

As we all said at the time of his transfer to United, you can take the boy out of South London but you can’t take the South London out of the boy.

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