Leeds United will be breathing a big sigh of relief at the news that Wilfried Zaha will be absent from the Crystal Palace XI that lines up at Elland Road on Monday.
The two sides are level on 29 points in the Premier League table and are separated only by goal difference with both clubs on course for mid-table finishes.
However, there was a lot between them when Leeds United were embarrassed 4-1 at Selhurst Park on November 7 and much of that was down to the efforts of Zaha who will miss Monday’s clash with a hamstring injury.
The Ivory Coast international is a talismanic figure down in south-London and though he did not score in the previous meeting between these sides he was certainly a big threat that contributed to the derailing of the Whites.
According to stats by Wyscout, Zaha attempted 14 dribbles against Leeds at a 50% success rate – the only game he has attempted more in was v Arsenal (15 on January 14).
He also won 12 of his offensive duels, a tally he has bettered only twice in the Premier League this season.
Leeds fouled him five times with three of these coming in the final third of the pitch as they struggled to get to grips with the 28-year-old.
Furthermore, against no team has he completed more passes to the final third (three) which is much higher than his 1.8 attempts per 90 over the course of the season.
Luke Ayling has had a superb season in the Leeds backline and has arguably been one of the star performers in the side but he endured his toughest afternoon of the season up against Zaha.
Although he started in a more traditional centre forward position it was not long before he drifted onto the left hand side and this created a big problem for the Leeds defence with Ayling having to shift over from his centre-back role to deal with his runs down the left channel.
Take this example shown below in just the fourth minute of the game.
Leeds have pressed up into the Palace half with six players in shot here and as soon as his team gain the ball Zaha spins off and runs into the space behind the defence.
The ball is lofted over and despite the row of Whites players in line with him he still manages to get into a dangerous area.
The lofted ball gave the defence the chance to catch up some ground on him but that did not matter as Zaha shimmered past Ayling with consummate ease and it was an early sign of things to come.
The goals flew in during the opening period at Selhurst Park with three coming before this next example in the 31st minute.
In the image below Zaha fronts Ayling up again and eyes the space behind him.
Once again the Leeds man is easily beaten and Zaha manages to fashion a shooting opportunity for himself and is only stopped by the barrage of bodies.
There were countless examples of this but most crucial one moment was when Zaha put the game out of sight with his assist to Jordan Ayew making it 4-1 to Palace in the 70th minute.
As seen above it was the turn of Robin Koch to deal with the winger and he made the decision to drop off rather than closing him down.
This would seem like a wise move to deal with such a quick and skilful player but this still did not stop him.
Zaha runs at Koch but this time with more deliberation and ignored the first run made by a Palace midfielder before eyeing the perfect one.
He spots Jordan Ayew ahead of Pascal Struijk and Ezgjan Alioski and plays it into the Ghana international for a shot on goal.
Ayew makes no mistake and slots it past Illan Meslier to put the game out of sight.
These clips are just a few examples of the effect Zaha had in the reverse fixture between the sides in November and how he contributed to one of the poorest performances seen under Marcelo Bielsa this season.
They still have Eberechi Eze in the side who has shown himself to be a future star but the Zaha is their number one and his absence will be a big blow for Palace on Monday evening.
Ayling will be leading the chorus of cheers for his absence as Leeds eye an instant reply to their midweek defeat against Everton.
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