How Crystal Palace forward Mateta became the Premier League's best finisher


The Premier League season ended with Crystal Palace third in the form table and Jean-Philippe Mateta as the division’s most prolific striker in the run-in. Hands up if you saw that coming. 


Only Manchester City and Arsenal (both 18) collected more points than Palace (16) in their final six matches. Oliver Glasner’s transformed team managed to sneak into the top half on the final day, securing a 10th-place finish courtesy of a 5-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. 


No one personifies Palace’s vast improvement more than Mateta. The Frenchman has been in sensational form in recent weeks. A hat-trick against Villa took his tally for the season to 16 in the Premier League. 13 of those goals have come in Glasner’s 13 matches at the helm. No player in England’s top flight has scored more in that time. 


Under Patrick Vieira and Roy Hodgson, Mateta often had to play second fiddle to Odsonne Edouard. He was occasionally given a sustained run in the team but did not exactly set the world alight in those appearances. Right up until Glasner took charge in February, the consensus at Selhurst Park was that a new centre-forward was needed this summer. 


No longer. In fact, Palace may face competition for Mateta’s services next season. Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly keeping tabs on the 26-year-old as they seek to revamp their attack post-Kylian Mbappe. Yes, you read that right. 


Mateta showcased his range of qualities against Aston Villa on the final day. He opened the scoring by making a well-timed run in behind and rifling a left-footed shot into the far corner. His second goal was another one-touch finish, this time from a low Daniel Munoz cross from the right.  


Mateta later completed his hat-trick by engineering a yard of space away from the Villa defence before emphatically converting. There was even time for the former Mainz man to provide an assist, as his backheel flick was seized upon by Ebere Eze for his second of the afternoon. 


Mateta has always been a well-rounded frontman. His size and strength allow him to pin opposition centre-backs and hold the ball up. This has been particularly useful since Eze and Michael Olise returned to full fitness, with both players regularly using Mateta as a target to bounce passes off. He has good close control and an underappreciated first touch. 


How Crystal Palace forward Mateta became the Premier League's best finisher


He can also run in behind. Mateta might be 6ft 4in, but he can get around the pitch. His ability to run the channels and put defenders under pressure has become even more important now that Glasner has introduced a more proactive approach out of possession.  


The only thing missing was goals. Mateta’s first 73 Premier League appearances for Palace yielded just 10. There were some accomplished finishes in there but strikes of any sort were few and far between.  


Having Olise and Eze supplying the ammunition obviously helps. Yet Mateta’s sheer ruthlessness in front of goal has caught even Palace supporters by surprise. No striker in the Premier League outperformed their xG this season as much as Mateta, who scored almost five more goals than he would have been expected to based on the chances he had. 


"He has a lot of confidence," Glasner said of Mateta on Sunday. "He makes the runs but he gets great assists. He’s in the position, he makes the runs, he works hard and he’s a great finisher with his left, right and head." 


After each of his goals against Villa, the Palace fans serenaded the Frenchman with his personal chant: "There ain’t no striker better than Jean-Philippe Mateta". It was once sung with irony. They might have a point these days.

How Crystal Palace forward Mateta became the Premier League's best finisher