When Wilfried Zaha sent two Burnley defenders sprawling in vain to block a shot that never came in the 76th minute at Turf Moor on March 2nd, there was a certain inevitability about what followed next.
Zaha, one of the Premier League’s most free-wheeling purveyors of chicanery, promised to shoot with his right, before breaking that oath with his left a split second later.
The result of Zaha’s wonderful feint and finish was Crystal Palace’s 3rd goal – a strike that secured the Eagles 4th away win in 6 league outings. It was also the hosts’ 1st loss in 6 on the home turf of Turf Moor.
Springing away day surprises has become something of a speciality for this Palace team, but what is it about Roy Hodgson’s Eagles that makes them one of the Premier League’s masters of migration?
Let’s take a closer look.
Crystal Palace Away Stats 2018/19
In many ways, Crystal Palace’s Premier League performances inside the last month or so perfectly encapsulated the kind of long-running patterns that have characterised their overall 2018/19 campaign.
On the last weekend of February, the Eagles dished out a 4-1 battering to Leicester City at the King Power Stadium – a performance so potent, that the Foxes sent Claude Puel packing almost immediately after.
Palace followed that superb display with a much limper one against an injury-ravaged Man Utd side at Selhurst Park just a couple of days later, eventually falling to a disappointing 1-3 defeat when so much more was on offer.
True to form, the Eagles re-straightened their flight-path at Burnley, reaffirming their preference for playing away from the Borough of Croydon, before nosediving again against Brighton at Selhurst Park a week later. Home comforts indeed.
After that quartet of hugely contrasting performances and results, Crystal Palace are simultaneously left with the Premier League’s 2nd worst home record and the division’s 6th best away record.
The Eagles are 1 of only 2 Premier League clubs to have amassed more away points than home points this season, though Palace are out on their own in terms of the difference between those totals.
3rd placed Tottenham Hotspur’s Wembley problems have been documented to death and Spurs have taken 33 or 54% of their 61 points this season away from their temporary accommodation, though Spurs’ percentage is dwarfed by Crystal Palace’s equivalent figure.
Incredibly, Palace have gathered 20 or 60.02% of their 33 Premier League points away from Selhurst Park this season, and just as remarkably, 69.44% of the Eagles’ goals this term were scored in away games.
Similarly, Crystal Palaces’ joint leading goalscorer Wilfried Zaha has plundered 7 or 87.5% of his 8 league goals this season in away matches.
Why are Crystal Palace so good away from home?
There are various factors that could be combining to have a major influence the Eagles’ sparkling away results and the contrast between those and their results at home.
One of those factors could relate to something as simple as space. The pitch at Selhurst Park is among the smallest in the Premier League – the surface Crystal Palace play on every other week is just 6,700m2, making it the 3rd most compact playing area in the division behind Craven Cottage (6,500m2) and Molineux (6,400m2).
It could be then, that Crystal Palace’s pacey attacking frontline that includes players like Andros Townsend, Wilfried Zaha and now Michy Batshuayi, tend to excel when there is more space to exploit.
However, that train of thought doesn’t hold up that well under closer statistical scrutiny. Palace have played away games on 7 of the Premier League’s top 10 biggest pitches, taking 21 points from 30 available.
Yet, in fixtures on the league’s smallest pitches, Palace have also taken 10 points from the slightly higher 24 that were available to date.
Could luck be the defining contributing factor?
Delving a little deeper into the statistics behind Crystal Palace’s home and away results takes us along a very interesting tangent.
The figures in the table above show us that Palaces’ home displays have been outperforming their away ones, from a statistical standpoint at least, giving their overall results a somewhat paradoxical look.
Palace have enjoyed more possession on average, more shots on goal and more shots on target per game at Selhurst Park than away from that venue this season. They have also conceded a whopping 51.9% more shots away from home on average in 2018/19.
Yes….we know…….expected goals are the devil’s work – but indulge us for just a minute.
The table above, showing Crystal Palace’s expected goals (xG) and expected goals (xGA) figures for the season returns some pretty interesting stuff.
The xG models show that Palace have had an enormously poor return on their clear goal scoring chances at Selhurst Park this season, scoring a full 11 goals fewer than they should have.
As a result of their poor finishing and rotten luck, the same models show that Palace have taken approximately 10.92 points fewer than they should have at home this term. A 24-point return from their 15 home matches would certainly look far healthier than the 13 they actually managed.
No other team in the league comes even close to matching Palace’s 19.92 points-shortfall at home this season – in fact, Huddersfield have the next highest difference between points accrued and expected points accrued at home (actual points 8, xPTS 13.64, difference 5.64).
Away from home, Palace have also been outperforming their numbers – the Eagles have scored roughly 8.49 more goals on the road than those controversial xG models insist they should have, and Palace are approximately 3 points up on their statistically determined away total.
What does this all mean dammit?
Viewing football exclusively through a statistical lens is an easy way to make yourself look and sound silly, BUT there are more than enough patterns running through Crystal Palace’s numbers to suggest that a complete reversal of their home and away performances and results could happen any day now.
Palace seem to be doing all the right things at Selhurst Park, but Lady Luck just doesn’t seem interested.
In their last 3 Premier League matches there alone, the Eagles took 1 point from 9 against West Ham, Man Utd and Brighton, while conceding 8 times and scoring just 3 times in the process.
Across that trio of hard-luck stories, Palace registered 57 shots on goal to their antagonists’ 23. I mean come on….
However, now is not the time for the Eagles to ruffle their feathers in frustration and while an upswing in results at Selhurst Park certainly isn’t imminent, it most definitely isn’t improbable. You’re welcome.