Speaking with Premier League Productions last week, Cheikhou Kouyate discussed Crystal Palace’s start to the season and how he is finding his current role at centre-back.
Assessing Palace’s opening fixtures, Kouyate revealed what coming into the new season felt like and how he believes the Eagles have started the current campaign. “We work hard in the beginning,” he said. “The team spirit is very, very good; we need to play hard, we need to win some points.
“And the first time we see we are going to play the first game against Southampton, all the team say we need to be ready, we need to get some points.
“We had Southampton first game, Manchester United after, Everton and Chelsea. Some people say we are going to take no points from these games. This is football, anything can happen, just believe in yourself.” Six points later, that belief has shown signs of success in the south Londoners’ opening games so far.
On the back of this, Kouyate believes Palace deserve respect from the wider sport because, he said, “they think we are nothing - we need also some respect. We have good players; we are not Chelsea or Manchester City, but we are where we are.
“We play 11v11, it is a fact. We need to prove we can do something. If you want to win against us, you need to do something more than us. It is very, very good - it's not bad for the team. The mentality is also good - wait and see.”
For the opening games of the season, Kouyate has operated at centre-back but, luckily for Palace, this is a role he has experience in. “I’ve known the position for a long time,” he explained. “My time in Anderlecht, I play centre-back [for] maybe one year in the Champions League against big teams. I have a little bit of experience. Also, for my national team I play centre-back. Last year I played two or three games at centre-back.”
And even though playing at the back isn’t new for Kouyate, who captained Senegal in that role at AFCON 2019, he still praises his teammates for helping him adapt to the position as an Eagle.
“[My teammates’ support] is why it's so easy for me to play like that. I know I can do better because I need to know sometimes yes, I do something like I forget I play as a centre-back. If you play in midfield, you go to press, to press, to press. If you play in the back you need to control, focus 100%.”
Ever improving in his defensive role, Kouyate of course also touched on what it is like training with Roy Hodgson: “This man is very, very special. He tries to make all players their best. He makes me my best. He wants to make every player their best.
“Tactically, we need to be very, very sharp. We work so much for that. You need to respect that, if you don't respect that, you're going to have some words with him. But it's nice, it's very nice to work with him, it's very good for the players to have him as manager.”
Speaking on his aims for the current season, Kouyate is not getting carried away with how long Crystal Palace have now been in the Premier League.
“Firstly, we need to take it step by step; we need to save the team from relegation. After we can see something else. But yes, we need to go step by step. And take game by game, and every game we know is the final.
“Because no more games are easy, every game is hard. If you want to win some games, you need to work hard, you need to stay humble, you need to stay focused, and okay you need to respect all teams. Because we know all teams here are very, very good.”
Characteristically, Kouyate ends on a hopeful note for the new campaign, despite a shorter pre-season than usual: “You see in the end of the last one [season], we were unlucky for some games, because we lost too many games, but we played good.
“Sometimes you play good and lose the game. But we never lost the team spirit. We know this is a new season, we need to do something for the team, for the fans, also for us, we work hard for that.”