All I can say is typical Palace.
There I was ‘happily’ working on my piece for TEB on my way up to Old Trafford on Saturday morning, confident that a thrashing (or at least a tight defeat) would confirm another slow start to a season to fray the nerves, before, hopefully, the usual upturn in the second half. So of course as everyone in the football world knows now, because it’s Manchester United, we won to confound every prediction and pundit.
Unfortunately one win, impressive as it was, does not make a season, and all of the worries I had on the way up to Manchester have not gone away.
As Roy Hodgson said in a recent press conference (I honestly can’t remember what he was referring to!) it’s like deja vu all over again. Another season starts and after what the majority of supporters believe was an underwhelming transfer window we are left wondering where a consistent level of goal scoring and points are going to come from.
With the exception of the 2015-16 season, every beginning of our current stay in the Premier League has featured a slow start with points hard to come by. The reasons have varied – Tony Pulis’s sudden departure and Frank de Boer’s ill fated adventure in South London, the hangover from the dire end of the 2015-6 season under the soon to depart Alan Pardew – in the every case we started the season poorly.
The problems this season are plain for all to see. Until Michy Batshuayi arrived last season we were finding goals hard to come by. With no new strikers coming in it is no surprise that goals have not been flying in. The loss of and failure to replace Aaron Wan Bissaka has left our defence weaker and Roy Hodgson’s methods, successful as they have been for us, always seem to take a while to bed in with the players.
Finally there is a nagging worry that the most fractious transfer window yet for Wilfried Zaha may mean he is not going to perform the superhuman feats to score goals and win us matches as he has done for the past five years. At the moment there is nothing to suggest the latter will be a problem but until he starts scoring goals it will remain a worry for me.
The biggest worry is that this is the third transfer window where we have tinkered at the margins of our squad without making any significant signings (if you exclude the conversion of Mamadou Sakho’s loan deal in September 2017). We received £45million up front from the sale of AWB and have roughly £40million of that left unspent. No Premier League side can take the risk of not maintaining the quality of their squad; particularly a club like us which flirts with relegation every season.
Although generally the club have, in my opinion, been pretty good about being as transparent as they reasonably can be re finances and the state of the club generally, things seem to have gone a little quiet on that front. Other than the press report which came out the night before the Brighton home match last season (surely the timing was pure coincidence!) that the American co-owners were looking to sell their shares in the club, there has been precious little news from the club and the Americans in particular.
It would be easy to conclude that notwithstanding the dubious timing there is something to the press reports and the Americans want out and until that happens are not interested in putting their hands in their pockets in any meaningful way. Frugality seems to be priority now, at least until something changes for better or worse.
If there is any basis for my, admittedly speculative theory, we are going to be even more reliant on both Roy Hodgson’s experience and his ability to get the best out of an aging squad. The result against Manchester United shows that anyone who writes off Roy Hodgson and Palace does so at their peril. Roy’s personnel changes from the woeful performance against Sheffield United undoubtedly solidified the defence and midfield and gave Jordan Ayew the platform to hassle and harry the home defenders into making the mistake that got us into the match.
There was, however, a fair amount of luck at play as well. United missed a penalty and spent most of the match camped around our penalty area. On most other days this would have ended up as a home win but Roy’s tactics, the players hard work and Lady Luck got us the points.
After our sluggish start I am at least happy that the Palace rollercoaster is in full working order – both up and down!