Wilfried Zaha could miss Palace’s FA Cup trip to Watford with calf strain

Dominic Fifield on 15 March 2019

Crystal Palace have potentially been dealt a major blow ahead of their FA Cup quarter-final against Watford after Wilfried Zaha suffered a calf strain in training which could keep him out of the tie at Vicarage Road.

While the injury is not considered serious, there is a risk Zaha might aggravate the strain by playing in the sixth-round match on Saturday. Palace are currently five points clear of the relegation places in the Premier League but would be anxious not to lose the Ivory Coast winger – who has been recalled by his national side for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda later this month – for a longer period over the run-in.

Roy Hodgson, having liaised with the club’s medical staff, will make a final decision on the morning of the tie, though Zaha’s absence would appear a considerable blow.

The 26-year-old, who has eight goals from 26 top-flight appearances this season having recently returned to his best, has endured a feisty relationship with Watford’s players, supporters and even mascots since winning the decisive penalty in the sides’ Championship play-off final six years ago, with meetings with the Hornets tending to bring the best out of him.

The Watford captain, Troy Deeney, has even admitted that he and his teammates had engaged in rotational fouling on the winger during Palace’s 2-1 defeat in August, “taking it in turns kicking him”. “I know no one wants to hear that, but you go: ‘You hit (him) this time, you hit him the next time,’” he told the BBC in the autumn. “You don’t have the same player tackle him because you know you’re going to get booked.”

Yet Palace, who are likely to include Max Meyer in their starting lineup, will still believe the side currently eighth in the Premier League – 10 points better off – can be eliminated as they seek a fourth consecutive away victory in all competitions. “This is the best squad I’ve been involved in and it just seems to be getting better,” said the midfielder, James McArthur. “If the manager makes six or seven changes, like he did against Burnley recently, the team doesn’t get weaker. So it’s the best squad I’ve been involved in and the talent of the squad is very, very high.

“This year we have not been as clinical at home as we have been away. You look at some of the performances at home and they have been excellent: Cardiff at home, we had more shots than I have ever seen us have; West Ham at home, I think we had 26, 27 shots in the second half alone. Yet we had five shots away to Leicester and scored four. So I think it is about being clinical. Maybe it does suit us away from home a bit that teams come on to us and we have a lot of counter-attack and pace and quality upfront. But we have got confidence where we can play home or away.”

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