Frank de Boer was the managerial equivalent of a day tourist; just barely seeing the sights, trying the food and chatting up the locals. Before he knew it, he was receiving his P45 and being shoved through the revolving door. Even last season’s managerial cameo, Bob Bradley, looked on with sympathy as the flying Dutchman heroically swooped in to get his marching orders after only helming four games with his team failing to score a single goal.
In a hot second, Roy Hodgson was beaming in front of the cameras with the eagle on his chest and hoping that this season was salvageable. But after his first 90 minutes, the job looks tougher as Southampton inflicted another defeat on the bottom-placed team, with Palace’s goal nets starting to gather cobwebs.
What went wrong?
Christian Benteke was relatively prolific for Crystal Palace last season, having scored 15 goals and chipping in with an additional two assists in the Premier League. However, Palace’s over-reliance on their frontman is painfully obvious.
In fact, Benteke was the only Palace player to plunder in double-figures last year; if he doesn’t score, they have to hope that others step up to fill in the gaps and so far, that hasn’t happened. Wilfried Zaha, impressive for much of the latter parts of the campaign in 2016/17, is still recovering from injury, as is the physically imposing Connor Wickham. The usually reliable set-piece contributor, Scott Dann has somehow lost all knowledge of how to score a header, having managed to miss glorious opportunities in the game against Burnley.
Against Southampton today, Hodgson tried to use Benteke as an out ball—pinging long balls up the park to release the pressure and hoping that he plays in Townsend or Loftus-Cheek to help himself out. When in the box, however, he couldn’t receive any decent crosses from out wide to create a chance on goal. In the second half, Southampton stopped pressuring the Palace players in packs to force them out wide, knowing that every cross will be comfortably dealt with by summer signing Wesley Hoedt and Maya Yoshida.
Knowing that Christian Benteke was their main contributor for the scoresheet, Crystal Palace have failed to bring in anybody that would offer competition to his spot or an alternative style of play to better suit de Boer’s tactics. There is no real backup to Benteke—not an ideal situation to be in for a club with an out-of-patch forward who desperately need goals.
Instead, Crystal Palace’s main acquisitions have been in the form of two loan signings; the aforementioned Ruben Loftus-Cheek (from Chelsea) and Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Manchester United). Fortunately for Palace, the two youngsters have so far put the veterans to shame with their thorough work on the pitch, with the former really showing why Chelsea valued him so highly. For some reason—perhaps the rumours of poor stamina were catching up with him—Ruben Loftus-Cheek was hooked by Roy at the 78th minute to a chorus of boos to bring on Bakary Sako, who has for long stretches figured out how to become invisible.
On top of these signings, perhaps the upper-management were hoping for Crystal Palace to be a stout defensive side and grind out one goal wins as in the olden days of Pulis and Allardyce. As if such a thing were possible with Martin Kelly lurking in the backline.
Jairo Riedewald has been brought in by de Boer after a fruitful relationship at Ajax, but so far the 21-year old has been lukewarm, and didn’t even make the bench for today’s fixture. It seemed like a look at the past ignited inspiration in the dying hours of the transfer window, as they snatched Mamadou Sakho from Liverpool’s thankful hands, after his talismanic performances on loan during the second half of the last season.
Saints’ midfield angels
It’s silly how prolific the Saints have been in being able to consistently find unwanted gems from other teams and then shift them on for profit (let’s just forget about Boufal). Mario Lemina, who was formerly getting paid to watch football from the bench at Juventus, has stated his claim as potentially one of the steals of the summer.
Alongside Oriol Romeu, the Gabon-international was like an octopus, mopping up loose balls with telepathic interceptions and keeping the ball moving, making the opposing half extremely hard to breech for Crystal Palace.
After Steven Davis tapped in the winner within six minutes of the game, Southampton’s midfield took pleasure in locking down the result for the remainder of the afternoon; barring a handful of mini-scrambles in the box, Crystal Palace barely had a sniff.
Palace are in trouble
If fans thought this start was a tough one, they better hope that Roy Hodgson has a part time gig as a miracle worker. In the next three PL games, Crystal Palace face Manchester City and Manchester United away from home, and then return to Selhurst Park to face up against Chelsea (with the added caveat that their two loanees will be unable to play against their parent clubs).
Hodgson needs to seriously evaluate if Jason Puncheon deserves to start in the team after his poor performances, and find some way to bring back a positive feeling to the downtrodden team in between these “six pointers”.