Ahead of Palace’s clash against Aston Villa, Wilfried Zaha sat down with Premier League Productions to talk about the season so far, his relationship with Patrick Vieira and his role in the squad.
The Eagles are currently on a seven-game unbeaten run, the longest in the Premier League at the moment, and that is thanks in part to the tactics implemented by new manager Vieira.
“He has a lot of ideas,” Zaha explains. “There’s a lot of intricate details.
“I feel like if you just buy into it, like everyone has, you can see it makes a massive difference. The whole team is willing to learn new things and I feel like that’s why it’s changed so quickly, because everyone’s willing to change and understand the new techniques and the new things we can be doing to improve our game.
“I’ll be honest, it hasn’t [been easy to immediately understand every idea]. There’s been sessions where we don’t understand anything, but once you do it a few times it starts to make sense. There are a few sessions where we’re looking at each other like: ‘what is this?’ Then after a few sessions you start to understand and then implement it into games.”
Vieira joined the club in summer amidst a number of new faces such as Michael Olise, Marc Guéhi and Conor Gallagher who have intertwined brilliantly with established first-team players like Christian Benteke, Jordan Ayew and Zaha himself - which the Ivorian appreciates:
“It makes a massive difference [having Gallagher and Benteke in form].
“When we go forward, or if we counter-attack, it’s not just one or two players versus four defenders - it makes such a difference when there’s Conor, Christian, Jordan, more players going up with you.”
Zaha is particularly fond of loanee Gallagher, as he went on to add: “[The attribute] Conor does have is that he goes back and forward. He will constantly do it so it’s a help all the time and it just makes a massive difference in the game when you have that someone to pass to.”
The seven summer signings have a combined average age of just over 23. With Zaha recently turning 29 he sees himself as ‘one of the old players,’ but understands his responsibilities and sees the potential in the side:
“It’s enjoyable [with a young squad], because you’re watching them grow. When I look at them, [I think:] ‘That used to be me!’ I had these conversations when I was 21; Michael Olise is 19! I’m one of the oldest guys here.
“It’s just nice seeing them grow and seeing them grow into the player that they’re going to be because some of them are ridiculously talented. I can’t wait to see the final product if they’re this good now and I’m glad to be around it."
Finally, Zaha delved deeper into the relationship he has with Vieira since his appointment and revealed how he met him before his arrival at Selhurst Park.
“You know what’s funny, I’ve seen him before at Winter Wonderland! I saw him with his daughters, and we had a conversation. Obviously he’s a legend - I used to support Arsenal - so meeting him was crazy.
“He spoke to me like he likes me as a player so it’s crazy that later on he’s become my manager. It’s a bit surreal, because when a legendary player becomes your manager there’s so much you can take from him. It’s different when you’ve actually seen them play, because you buy into what they say more because they understand the game, they’ve done it before.
“I feel the pressure to do more and do better because he expects me to. I feel like I perform better under pressure, because if it was easy things start to go a bit pear-shaped without the pressure on myself. Every day he’s demanding more and more from me. Sometimes it’s annoying, but he wants the best from me so I just try to do my best.”