It has been a pretty torrid time for Crystal Palace fans of late. For all its drama and many twists and turns, Saturday’s 5-4 defeat at Swansea City was the tip of the iceberg for many, normally quite restrained, Crystal Palace fans. Flooding national radio phone-in’s and taking to social media to not only vent their frustration at their teams performances this season but also with many calling for manager Alan Pardew to get the sack, there is clearly something not quite right at Selhurst Park the moment. The highs of six months ago in reaching the FA Cup final to be only narrowly beaten by Manchester United are, half a year later, far outweighed by the many lows of Palace’s league performances of late. Whether you point directly to the clubs form during the 2016/17 season thus far, Palace’s record throughout the calendar year or their simple failure to take advantage of what may in hindsight prove to be the clubs best chance of winning any silverware, it certainly does not make for good reading and the jury is rightly out on the Eagles chances of Premier League survival this season.
With a quick glance at the Premier League table, one would think that Palace’s problems are far from serious given their ability to create chances and score goals in the league. At this current time of writing only a current top four of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal have scored more goals individually than Crystal Palace with Alan Pardew’s side notching 21 goals already this season in just 13 league games. The significant problems however lie in defence with Crystal Palace sitting in joint second place with Swansea City for the most goals conceded this season (26 goals) with only Hull City conceding more than them (28 goals). Out of Palace’s eight league defeats the club have conceded the first goal on seven occasions, failing in these seven matches to put up any real competition to claw their way back into the game and rescue any points. Whilst Crystal Palace have enjoyed their own luck through late goals, most notably Christian Benteke’s late winner against Sunderland back in September, what goes around has appeared to come back around except that bit more frequently and even more powerfully with Palace conceding in the last ten minutes of play, once again on seven occasions this season. Meanwhile out of the three games that Crystal Palace have took the lead in, Pardew’s side have won only on two occasions with the only loss coming last weekend in the clubs chaotic clash against Swansea City. Something therefore certainly needs to be done to prevent Pardew’s side from conceding the first goal which has proven to be an obstacle they have so frequently struggled to overcome, at least on five occasions this season after going behind to first-half goals and subsequently losing the game.
In an online interview dating back to early August 2016 (Eurosport), Alan Pardew expressed his desire for Crystal Palace to “retain the ball” and “play a brand of football” that the club were unable to demonstrate last year due to lack of squad depth, strength and the many injuries suffered. Now personally I am a big fan of innovative tactics and clever ideas, especially if they have been proven to be successful elsewhere in the footballing world, but a tactical innovation of this type will inevitably take time to become fully embedded into a clubs philosophy. And with time already ticking for Crystal Palace as they continue their descent, free-falling down the Premier League table, you do have to question whether the efforts taken by the club to embrace such an appealing yet time-consuming style of play risks leaving the club at a severe disadvantage at least in the short-term? What good is harnessing a different way of playing football if by the time you have fully got used to it, the club are in the thick of a relegation scrap? Using Sunderland and their many managers as our example, with their different approaches and fresh ideas at the start of every season, from Di Canio to Poyet and Advocaat to Allardyce, fresh formations and team instructions advocated during the first half of a Premier League season can be very quickly cast aside when danger is calling. Whilst I treat both football clubs as individual examples with very different structures, histories and approaches to Premier League football, one thing that applies to both however is that survival is key – not perfecting a rotating pivot between Yohan Cabaye and James McArthur. And whilst I do, for the record, personally commend Pardew for his attempts at using his initiative and a bit of creativity which the game so often craves for to embark upon a new style of play, in such a cut-throat industry there is only so long that both those in the boardroom and those in the stands can persevere with such instability. Points dropped, pounds dropped, precious time wasted and Palace on the brink.
However admittedly it is very easy to sit and point the finger of blame directly at the manager and to the many ideas he may have or may not have been responsible for. But if a workman is only as good as his tools he himself cannot be solely to blame for the clubs recent woes, can he?
Looking beneath the manager and his coaching staff you therefore have to question the players, especially their personal attitude to playing for Crystal Palace under Pardew and his fellow coaching staff. On paper Crystal Palace have a squad more than capable of finishing in mid-table at least, if not knocking on the door of those challenging for European Football. On any video-game, you would more than likely even achieve that dream of European Football quite easily without even needing to purchase any players of your own, testament to how highly rated Palace’s players are. Therefore Crystal Palace is clearly a club well thought of by many; their players highly respected and appreciated amongst fans of other clubs. From Christian Benteke, Yohan Cabaye and Steve Mandanda who boast numerous international caps to the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Martin Kelly; players once deemed some of the hottest prospects in English football at their former clubs. As all continue to carry an abundance of potential reflected by their individual price-tags, many often thought that all they lacked was playing time and a platform at their former clubs to perform. Yet despite a few glimpses of what made the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool sit up and take note of their talent in the first place, you do feel that it is now time for the aforementioned few to step up, be counted and prove that it was worth believing in the hype all along. Relegation in this case would not only damage Crystal Palace as a club, but perhaps question the judgement of their former clubs for rating them in the first place, not forgetting the player’s’ future transfer values.
Now like an agenda at an office meeting, before we can move onto any other business we must assess where else it has gone wrong for Crystal Palace this season, specifically with an eye on recruitment. As with every team that start the season badly, soon follows a post-mortem of the summer transfer window leaving those in the upper echelons of the club with a number of, in many cases unanswerable questions. Should we have purchased different players? Did we make the right decision to sell a certain individual? Could we have done more to avoid XYZ? Should have, would have, could have but ultimately by the 2nd September 2016 what is done has been done and the simple answer is that Crystal Palace did not. From this point on, it is then surely the responsibility of the manager to make the best of the resources he has at his disposal and to operate in-line with club targets to the very best of abilities, rather than lamenting what might have been or counting down the days until January 1st when he is able to dip into the transfer market once again.
Due to Crystal Palace’s disappointing defensive record of goals conceded this season, firstly you would think that a serious reshuffle in defence is of paramount importance when it comes to future transfer spending. Therefore with defensive reinforcements surely at the top of Pardew’s Christmas list, the club’s next move is vital. Short-term loan deals for out of favour defenders are always an appetising option during the winter window and could yet prove to be the clubs most affordable option. Likewise approaching those whose contracts are set to expire in summer 2017 could also be a masterstroke in purchasing a player for a much smaller transfer fee compared to what their current club would have been demanded six months ago and most importantly, before the queue forms come July 1st to acquire their services on a free-transfer.
As an outsider looking in, I would think the likes of Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs tick all the boxes as those who would significantly improve Crystal Palace and are struggling for much needed game-time this season. Conversely the contracts of Newcastle United’s Vurnon Anita and the highly rated left-back Charlie Taylor of Leeds United are set to expire in less than eight months and could both not only do a fantastic job for Crystal Palace defensively but could more strikingly, be bought at a fraction of their original valuation. The reportedly unsettled former Liverpool and current West Ham United right-back Alvaro Arbeloa may also be an attractive quick-fix for Alan Pardew, as could the promising Southampton right-back Cuco Martina who, like Arbeloa, has a contract that runs only until summer 2017. Ultimately Crystal Palace will struggle to attract the calibre of player they may strongly desire to solidify their defensive line this winter with the summer window perhaps a more likely option. As a wildcard option, could Sunderland be tempted to cash in on the previously unsettled Lamine Kone if Crystal Palace come knocking? Despite a recent contract extension, this could if anything help Sunderland to cash in on a defender heavily linked with Everton last summer and you never know, could prove to be the best outcome for Kone himself and for both clubs too.
Meanwhile moving further up the pitch, I do not think there is much cause for concern at Selhurst Park on the goals front given their proficiency in-front of goal so far this season. The severe misfortune of losing loanee Loic Remy for a prolonged period of absence at the start of the season, as well as recent bad luck with a suspected ACL injury suffered by Connor Wickham may mean however that Crystal Palace have to bring in another forward this window. Remy may yet prove to be back before the New Year which would go some way to solving any short-term worries but I do firmly believe that another forward may help the club wholeheartedly should they find themselves fighting for top-flight survival come March or April 2017. With this in mind, who would put it past Saido Berahino to get himself back fit and force a January move to Crystal Palace; helping his new team power past West Bromwich Albion in the league to Premier League safety? Other potential options are the permanent signings of Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez or Aston Villa’s Rudy Gestede if both clubs are willing to sell, or perhaps even a loan-deal for Bournemouth’s Jerome Sinclair with the former Liverpool man struggling for regular minutes this season. On the flip side, I am sure way down in Pardew’s contract list he may still have the mobile numbers of the current two Sky Bet Championship top goal-scorers…
Looking further ahead, do not be surprised if Crystal Palace, after comfortably surviving in the Premier League (as I expect them to do so), apply a much different approach to future recruitment. Whilst now may not be the best time to taking wholesale risks with a lot at stake; purchasing young players and expecting too much of them should they find themselves continue to languish in the lower half of the table, I would still recommend purchasing younger, promising players except this time coupling them with more experienced European defenders as a future way forward. Using Middlesbrough and Bournemouth’s specific use of experienced defenders in Antonio Barragan and Sylvain Distin respectively in recent years, this approach appears to have allowed the club’s younger defenders to blossom, regularly playing alongside a wiser set of shoulders week in, week out. This unique blend of raw talent combined with players previously tested at the very highest level for club and country may yet prove to be the answer to Crystal Palace’s defensive woes and could be food for thought for the club.
And finally with regards to Alan Pardew, as a fan of a much different Premier League team, I am honestly not sure what the best option for Crystal Palace would be right now. A man who clearly loves the club and knows it to its core, Pardew ticked all the boxes upon his arrival at Crystal Palace after a difficult end to life at Newcastle United. Evidently his side’s six consecutive league defeats as well as not managing a clean-sheet in 18 games, conceding 18 goals in his last six games and the unbelievable statistic of earning a mere 0.72 points per game this calendar year making them the worst of the 92 competing clubs in the English Football League, does mean that the writing could be very much on the wall already. Saturday’s home game against Southampton must be therefore be seen as Alan Pardew’s second cup final this with their third a week late against Hull City before the notorious, hectic Christmas fixture list begins to hit full swing. Should Pardew lose against Southampton, as is the nature of modern-day football, he may well lose his job and a new manager could be brought in to give the club a lift before fixtures against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal within the space of two and half weeks over the Christmas break. No matter what happens however, a spring clean is long overdue and necessary right now more than ever before, unless they potentially want to be replaced in the Premier League by Pardew’s former club next season.