• By Alessandro Schiavone in Reims

Boulaye Dia: The deadly striker Crystal Palace need to turn the Benteke page


Wouldn’t the Crystal Palace faithful love the idea of a new, hungry, pacy and talented 26-year-old striker to replace Christian Benteke whose goalscoring stats dramatically nosedived since signing a new two-year deal in summer 2021?


Boulaye Dia and Crystal Palace would be a match made in heaven. He would be the right centre-forward to finish their attacks. The person to rely on when Zaha rarely has a shocker. The man to sign now for a low fee and sell double or triple the amount in 2024. And the Villarreal star would fit in well in the Premier League thanks to his powerful physical attributes, ability to run in behind and speed of thought. Thanks to his agility he often breaks free and has a free run on goal from a deeper spot.


The Senegal international scored a respectable 14 times for Reims in his breakthrough season in Ligue 1 in 2020/2021. Detractors may now point to the fact that his goals dried up since he swapped the French top-flight for la Liga in summer 2021 as he managed a disappointing five in his debut season with the Yellow Submarines. But in Spain he isn’t an undisputed first choice. When fit, Gerard Moreno and Arnaud Danjuma were and still are Unai Emery’s preferred options.


Yesterday the 26-year-old, who won the African Cup of Nations with Senegal this year and even played in the final, curled in a beauty against his old club Stade De Reims on his first visit at Stade Auguste Delaune as a rival. He collected the ball on the edge of the box, kept his composure and had a quick look to see where the goalkeeper was standing before bending a low effort into the far corner. One could do much worse than wondering when the last time a Crystal Palace centre-forward did something similar? Was it Ian Wright or Mark Bright all these years ago?


Christian Benteke, when on form, is a finisher who excels in the box. But no amount of goodwill can justify his place in Palace’s starting XI next season after being already frozen out last term due to his fading form. Provided that he stays put of course, after rumours of a move to Wolverhampton have started to intensify. The other frontman Odsonne Edouard isn’t an out-and-out striker and is better when playing in a slightly deeper or wider position. While Jean-Philippe Mateta isn’t as mobile and agile in tight spaces and looks very predictable at times. If he is on his day, he can cause the opposition all sorts of problems with his height and Emmanuel Adebayor-esque bursts of acceleration. But if he has a bad day at the office he is completely useless to the way Palace play: expansive, incisive and where each and single player works his socks off the ball. Dia, on the other hand, is often in the right place and the right time. He is really robust enough to hold off challenges from defenders when through on goal before finishing. His sumptuous scissor-kick goal against PSG two seasons ago showed what he is all about: a fox in the box with a great killer instinct who is capable of converting half chances. Besides, the ability to run the channels and time his runs in behind to perfection is outstanding. Premier League standard.


He would represent a different weapon in Patrick Vieira’s armoury. He is ambidextrous, meaning that he can find the back of the net with both feet. Of his 19 league goals in the past two seasons between Reims and Villarreal, he scored 11 with his preferred right, seven with his left and one with his head. In terms of nodding home crosses, he isn’t as prolific as Benteke but if Crystal Palace look for someone with all-round skills, he could be the answer to many questions. He is quick, intelligent and would link up well with Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew thanks to his ability to read the game. Besides he is good with his back to goal and often draws two defenders on him, meaning that those around him can benefit from a free run on goal. And thanks to his aerial ability, if you go sleep on him, he makes you pay as the star-studded PSG defence found out. He may only have netted five goals last season but from only 22 shots on goal. Which is a decent return. By contrast, Benteke would probably require more chances to score half the amount if his last five seasons minus the penultimate one are anything to go by…


Dia may not have replicated his French form at the El Madrigal but the electric Selhurst Park atmosphere would help him rekindle his magic in the 18-yard box . If he stays, this could be the season he sets La Liga on fire after a much-needed period of adaptation in a different country, league and team. And if that happens it may be too late to sign him. Strike while the iron’s hot, Pat…