Two recent defeats have brought Palace crashing back down to earth.
Following an unwelcome international break, the Eagles fell to defeat to West Ham United before Saturday’s 3-1 reverse away to Leicester City.
A five game unbeaten run was established prior to the international break and the subsequent defeat to the Hammers. Last season’s fourteen game run without a win was supposedly in the distant past and a corner had been turned since the disappointing start to the current campaign. However, both defeats have taught us that we are still not far from the side that was so prone to an unexpected capitulation.
The result at the King Power Stadium slightly flattered the Foxes but, nonetheless, it was a deserved victory. Leicester scored with their first three attempts on target and almost scored with their fourth had it not been for an excellent save from Steve Mandanda to deny the impressive Riyad Mahrez. However, Claudio Ranieri’s side just seemed so superior. The quality of Palace’s performance has been condemned but what has mysteriously been ignored is the sheer difference between the two clubs.
Leicester have correctly been praised for their astronomical recent feats. A club so well run in a way possibly comparable to Palace but, in other ways, so contrasting. Ranieri has been allowed to build a squad so unique that it can genuinely challenge the elite of the Premier League despite not being blessed with the same world class talent as the top clubs. This was proved as they stormed to a magical top flight success last season.
A slow start to the new campaign has had an impact on their bid to defend their title but, even so, my two immediate feelings upon seeing their team sheet on Saturday afternoon were envy and fear. Envy at the fact at least four of their seven substitutes would have made our starting line up, such was their excellent squad depth, and fear at the possibility of them making any substitution and it still affecting the game in their favour. Did Leicester fans have similar anxieties about our eighteen man squad? No. In fact they correctly expected a thirteen month unbeaten home run to continue.
As has been the case for the majority of the past twelve months, none of our three substitutes had any impact on the game. Fraizer Campbell’s introduction was met by satirical chants of, ‘if Fraizer scores, we’re on the pitch,’ by Palace fans, such was the certainty that the striker would be non-existent for the eighteen minutes that remained. It was a substitution made purely out of desperation rather than to recover from the already comfortable 2-0 deficit. Chung-yong Lee’s introduction was just as uninspiring.
Yet Alan Pardew had no choice but to bring Campbell on. Connor Wickham’s playing style is too similar to Christian Benteke’s and Campbell was the only other striker available. The Eagles needed a goal but Pardew had poor options sat next to him, particularly in comparison to the ones that Ranieri had at his disposal. While Pardew replaced Andros Townsend with Campbell, Ranieri withdrew £30million summer signing Islam Slimani and Ballon D’Or nominee Jamie Vardy took his place. Quality oozed from their squad while, in stark contrast, Palace are currently reliant on just eleven individuals.
There is a drastic gap between the quality of players in Palace’s twenty-five man squad which must be addressed immediately. Our starting eleven at Leicester included several internationals, yet the substitutes’ bench would not look out of place in the Championship. The current squad possesses around fifteen players who, when all are fit, can argue a very good case to be in the regular line-up. The lack of competition has caused inconsistency from usually dependable players, including Yohan Cabaye and Joel Ward – the former having his best game on Saturday in over six months.
The insufficient depth can partly be blamed on bad luck but it is still holding the club back. Some occurrences have simply been out of Palace’s control. For example, Loic Remy would have been the difference in tight games against Everton and Bournemouth had he not suffered an injury within a week of signing on a season-long loan from Chelsea. In addition, Pape Souare’s horrifying accident left the full-back with career threatening injuries and the club without a Premier League quality left-back. Martin Kelly is currently filling the void left by the Senegalese international but is highlighted as a weak link by opposition, while Zeki Fryers has hardly impressed bar a wonderful assist in the victory against Sunderland.
January provides the Eagles with the biggest transfer window since promotion. Drastic changes are not necessary but at least four additions are required. Pardew has just three centre backs to choose from while an injury to either Townsend or Wilfried Zaha would leave the Eagles short out wide. The Palace board can either stick to their aspirations by adding to the squad to encourage competition and compete for a top half finish, or they can settle being among the clubs sitting just above the bottom three.