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I have long been a critic of Jason Puncheon’s. For me, it is not his ability that has ensured his continued place in the Crystal Palace squad but the stature of the player with the fanbase and seniority within the squad. His contribution has been negligible for seasons now and there are better options that have seldom been employed together thanks to his presence in his side.
I simply cannot be the only one that has grown tired of seeing him get the ball, run at an opponent, pirouette and come out from the challenge having conceded possession in his own half. Again. It is time to set his history to one side, look at his contribution and conclude that he should no longer be one of the first names on the team sheet.
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Jason Puncheon has turned out 157 times wearing red & blue, scoring 16 goals in the process. Not a bad return? Overall that may be true, but that statistic doesn’t tell the full story of the steady decline in contribution since he first broke into the team at Crystal Palace.
Last season he didn’t score a single time in the Premier League, assisting five times. McArthur contributed five goals and three assists in seven games fewer last term and Cabaye netted four times and assisted thrice in fewer games too. Even Scott Dann wasn’t far off contributing to more goals as he scored twice and assisted once in 13 fewer appearances…
In truth, he has been unable to replicate the kind of contributions which he managed in his first two seasons at the club. In his first season at Palace he scored seven, assisting twice and in his second season it got even better – six goals and seven assists. Just to put that into context, in the ensuing two and a bit seasons since then he has directly contributed to three fewer goals than he did in the 2014/15 season alone.
If he doesn’t manage three goals/assists this season (which looks plausible at this stage) then his return in three full seasons will have been less than in the 2014/15 season. Surely any other player would have found themselves sidelined had their contributions fallen off such a cliff.
There is an argument that Puncheon’s continued presence in the team has been enforced – injuries and a lack of depth in midfield have contributed to his appearance count. That may have been true in the past, but since January which saw the arrival of Luka Milivojevic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s addition in the summer that simply isn’t true anymore.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek has looked exceptional this season. In Zaha’s absence, he’s looked the player most likely to conjure the miracle we’ve been searching for out of thin air. Yohan Cabaye brings a range of passing and quality on the ball that Jason Puncheon simply cannot deliver anymore. As for Luka Milivojevic, well he’s a very different player, defensive-minded but with a quality on the ball that Mile Jedinak never quite had and although James McArthur has struggled with fitness even he brings an energy and hunger to the side with breaks forward.
There are four alternatives to Puncheon for a three-man midfield. Loftus-Cheek simply must start if he’s fit, Milivojevic sits and allows others to foray forwards and Yohan Cabaye has more composure and a better range of passing than Jason Puncheon. That is a balanced midfield, in my opinion, and to start a game I would not replace a single one of those players with Jason Puncheon. He doesn’t have the pace to play on the wing anymore.
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This is not some ideological attack on a player who has been an important part of the fabric of the club for the last few seasons. I admire his passion, I admire his desire, but that just isn’t enough – quality and professionalism must win the day, not sentiment. The reality now, as I see it, is that there are better individuals at the club that should be ahead of him on merit when it comes to starting every week. Can he still play a role? Of course, but not a starring one.
Take a look at some of the biggest players to have played for us in recent history, players like Julian Speroni and Mile Jedinak. They grew to love the club and had a fantastic relationship with the fans as well as single-handedly carried the team in some really tough moments, time and time again.
The point I’m trying to make is that there are bigger personalities, more important players with bigger connections to the club have found themselves eased out of both the squad and the club when they began to fade. It wasn’t instant, nor should it have been, but finally that process may have started for Jason Puncheon.