In a transfer window as dull as January 2021, you could be forgiven for quickly scrolling past the news of Jean-Philippe Mateta signing for Crystal Palace on loan from Mainz.
The 23-year-old had managed seven goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances for the German side during the first half of the season. A decent haul, but as names go throughout Europe’s top five leagues, his is not instantly recognisable for the average football fan.
But if you weren’t aware of him before Monday night, you will be now. Unless you didn’t fancy Crystal Palace vs Brighton and used the evening to take a break from the constant football. Then you obviously won’t be… Anyway, you get the idea.
Palace have had quite a massive striker problem for a while now. Christian Benteke’s form has nosedived over the past couple of seasons and while Jordan Ayew is as hard a grafter as you’re likely to see, he was never going to be the long term answer to that goalscoring problem. Great to have in a squad like Palace’s, yes, but a permanent fixture as a striker? No.
It was only Mateta’s second Premier League start on Monday, his first coming against Leeds in the 2-0 defeat earlier in February. He lasted just over an hour then and was a substitute for their next game against Burnley.
He made little impression in either, but made the most emphatic contribution during a first half which Brighton dominated.
Ayew was the provider on the wing, doing Dan Burn on the outside and crossing low into Mateta’s feet. The Frenchman swivelled perfectly to meet the ball, placing it perfectly with a backheel past Seagulls goalkeeper Robert Sanchez for the game’s opener.
Perhaps what was most impressive about his creative finish was just how little of the ball he had received. Mateta was a lone figure as Brighton pressed and probed around the Palace box.
As has often been the case for the south coast side under manager Graham Potter, their pretty football came to little, and instead it was Mateta who applied the finishing touch in the 28th minute with just his eighth touch of the ball.
Whereas opposite number Neal Maupay seemed to get in the way with his touches in Palace’s box during that first half, Mateta produced a moment of instinctive brilliance.
Palace in general have been quite mixed over the past few weeks, with wins against Wolves and Newcastle helping to allay any potential relegation fears. But with Wilfried Zaha sidelined since that victory over the Magpies, there have been worries over their attacking potency.
On Monday night though, just two moments of quality that exploited weaknesses in Brighton’s backline proved enough for Palace to take all three points back to Selhurst Park.
Christian Benteke’s effort was arguably the better of the two, a brilliantly controlled volley that flew low into the bottom corner. It was a great result for manager Roy Hodgson, both in seeing his two strike options net important goals as well as picking up all three points in general.
The gap between Palace and Brighton now stands at six points. If the two strikers can find a bit of form, it may only widen between now and the end of the season.
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