Let's just skip over the part where we talk about Crystal Palace's cataclysmic start to the Premier League season. We all know. The defeats, the goals (or lack thereof), the de Boers. It's been a rough ride. Unfortunately, it may get worse before it gets better.
Roy Hodgson, who for whatever reason decided to swap Saturday afternoons at home to assume command of the Selhurst Park sinking ship, will round up several of his players after their travails on the international scene at the club's training base in Beckenham and begin preparations for the visit of Chelsea on Saturday.
Chelsea, whose excellent run of results ended prior to the World Cup qualifiers with a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City, will arrive at Selhurst Park this weekend looking to emulate Huddersfield Town, Swansea City and Southampton, who all picked up three points and contributed to the Eagles' deepening malaise.
Facing the champions in their current predicament isn't going to be fun. However, Hodgson can draw some encouragement from the fact that Antonio Conte's preparations for this game will be hampered by the possible absence of Chelsea's ball-winning maestro N'Golo Kanté. They will also be missing Álvaro Morata as the Spain striker continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.
However, Chelsea still represent a hellish examination of Palace's already bruised and battered back-line, a unit which has shipped 17 goals in seven games this season. But if Palace are to get anything from this game, matters in the final third will also need to improve dramatically from the toothless displays of recent weeks.
With Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Ruben Loftus-Cheek injured, the responsibility of providing an attacking spark falls to the likes of Bakary Sako, Jeffrey Schlupp, Jason Puncheon and Andros Townsend.
It is not sufficient for Palace to merely write off the Chelsea game and look to reboot their season away to Newcastle United in two weeks. Even if they can't beat Chelsea, there needs to be a hint of resuscitation this week.
Schlupp and Puncheon Need To Improve
That includes the men paid to bring Selhurst Park to their feet. In Townsend, Schlupp and Puncheon – who Hodgson most recently deployed as the advanced midfield trio in a 4-2-3-1 – they have players with the ability to hurt teams on the counter-attack.
But the grim atmosphere in the Palace dressing room has not evaded them. Schlupp, for example, who was signed from Leicester City in January, was singled out by Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer following the 4-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Barely two minutes into the game, Schlupp is caught ball-watching as Marcus Rashford makes light work of Joel Ward on the right wing. As the United winger charges into the box, the Palace defenders are relatively tight on Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini. But Schlupp leaves Juan Mata in far too much space on the edge of the box. Rashford spots it, plays it across to the Spaniard who scores.
In the screenshot below, you can see Schlupp looking at Mata as he's calling for the ball, yet the Palace man fails to react and leaves far too much space between him and the United attacker.
It reflected poorly on Schlupp, to lose concentration and discipline that early in the match and effectively condemn his side to the nightmare start they were looking to avoid. Had Schlupp been alert, he could have intercepted and launched a counter-attack. With United committing so many players forward, it could have been developed into a promising situation for the Eagles.
But Schlupp is not alone, of course. Puncheon faltered in his defensive duties, too, falling asleep at the far post to allow Fellaini to steal in and double United's lead. With those two lapses in concentration, Palace were out of the game. Puncheon, who was named the new club captain in the summer, has been guilty of letting his standards slip. A player of his experience will be aware of that and, looking forward, he must only believe that things will improve.
But their contributions at the other end, where they are expected to deliver, were also sorely lacking. In the 12th minute at Old Trafford, Yohan Cabaye's pressure on David de Gea led to a mistake from the United keeper, clearing it straight to Schlupp. However, lacking decisiveness, the Ghanian took too long to pick out Sako, allowing Ashley Young to track back and make an intercepting header.
It wasn't Schlupp's afternoon at all. Contrary to what the scoreline would have you believe, Palace actually enjoyed a decent amount of possession high up the pitch at Old Trafford: they just lacked a killer instinct. By the time Schlupp was substituted in the 68th minute, he had been dispossessed four times and lost seven duels. Considering he cost the club £9million, improvement is needed.
Townsend the Trier
A gif of Anthony Martial nonchalantly rolling the ball through his legs aside, Townsend has arguably been the solitary bright spark in Palace's attack this season. The former Tottenham Hotspur winger has created eight chances to Schlupp's four and Puncheon's five, while he has 25 take-ons, 18 more than the other duo combined.
Townsend has consistently tried to make things happen for Palace this season. Against Burnley, the 26-year-old completed eight take-ons and created five chances but, despite his injection of pace and impetus, Palace still lost. But Townsend is selected to beat players in wide positions and create chances, something he has admirably tried to do in Zaha's stead.
Andros Townsend in the Premier League this weekend:
Most take-ons completed (8)
Most chances created (5)
Unlucky to lose. pic.twitter.com/cvSRi18sVA
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 11, 2017
In the defeat to Swansea, Townsend was also Palace's best player. He had a 93 per cent pass completion rate, completed two key passes and succeeded in four out of four dribbles, once again illustrating how he has been the one to provide a sense of urgency. The missing ingredient has been shooting accuracy, with nine of his 12 efforts in total veering off target.
While it hasn't happened for Townsend yet with regards to goals or assists, if he continues to outshine Puncheon and Schlupp, he should be rewarded if he can find his range when sizing up a shot.
Losing 5-0 and 4-0 in their last two games to the Manchester clubs certainly doesn't inspire confidence, but Hodgson should have a reasonable expectation that his players will keep it tighter at home. They are likely to formulate a counter-attacking strategy and, if that proves to be the case, Schlupp and Puncheon will need to switch on and sharpen up or prepare to be dropped.