Defeat against Southampton on Saturday meant Crystal Palace earned the dubious honor of being the first team in Premier League history to start the season without a win or a goal in their first five matches. Despite an early managerial change, a quick turnaround seems unlikely. With three difficult fixtures to come, the Eagles could well be winless in eight and on pace for the lowest points total in Premier League history.
Early opportunities missed
There may be no easy matches in the Premier League, but the fixture list was not particularly unkind to the Eagles over the first five weeks. An opener against promoted Huddersfield Town, and matches against Swansea and Burnley in weeks two and three—two clubs that finished lower than them last season—offered Palace early opportunities for points. But players struggled to adapt to their new manager’s system, consistently gifting scoring chances to their opponents while spurning their own. While his team’s showings were dismal, changing from the directness of previous manager Sam Allardyce to more considered, possession-oriented play under de Boer always seemed a big ask. One imagines the lack of visible improvement in team performances finally convinced the Palace hierarchy to sack Frank de Boer after four matches and only 77 days in charge.
No end in sight
The decision to bring in Roy Hodgson is a return to the more deliberate, and admittedly more successful, style that ensured the club’s stay in the top flight in years past. After Palace’s diffident and toothless performance in defeat to Southampton, the size of the task facing the former England manager was painfully apparent. His post-match comments indicated Hodgson was under no illusions in this regard, but one wonders how long he will be given to make his mark. Time and patience are in short supply.
Palace now face three daunting fixtures in a row: Manchester City away, Manchester United away, and Chelsea at home. There is now a very real possibility of starting the season winless, and perhaps still goalless, in eight, extending their historic run. Derby County currently hold the record for fewest points in a season, a paltry 11 in their 2007-08 campaign, though even they waited until November to fire their manager. After eight matches the Rams had tallied five points and five goals. Roy Hodgson would probably snatch your hand off if you offered him that.
Not all doom and gloom?
Bringing in Roy Hodgson, while a short-term solution, is probably the club’s best bet for survival. Hodgson has a proven record of righting the ship at struggling clubs, keeping both Fulham and West Brom in the top flight in previous appointments. Additionally, though the hiring of de Boer suggested a desire to depart from its previous style of play, the squad never received the necessary reinforcements to implement the Dutchman’s plan. Palace are still best suited to unstylish but effective play, the sort Hodgson is known for.
Hodgson’s task at Palace is twofold. Firstly, he must organize his error-prone defense. The club’s three 1-0 defeats belie frequently shambolic defending. Renowned for unrelenting training regimens, used to instill in his players an uncomplicated playing philosophy, Hodgson will need to draw on all his experience to tighten up the Eagles’ leaky defense. Secondly, he must find a way to get goals out of Christian Benteke. The Belgian can be lethal when on form, but frustrates when his confidence is low. His 15 goals last season amounted to nearly a third of Palace’s league goals.The squad will receive a boost in both departments with the imminent returns of Mamadou Sakho and Wilfried Zaha. The French defender was immense on loan at the club last season, and Zaha led the team with 9 assists. A midweek win over Huddersfield in the Carabao Cup could offer a much needed confidence boost.
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