After a disappointing home defeat against Southampton we have now had a week off courtesy of a disappointing home loss to Derby County in the FA Cup.
The week off has been most welcome given the nature of the defeat against Southampton. Our players were out thought, out fought and pretty comprehensively out played. The week off will hopefully give a small, exhausted squad a chance to recover and maybe even bring in a couple of the injured players back into contention. It is also an opportunity to assess where the season is going.
Despite the social media rage after the Southampton result there is still a lot to like about this season so far. We are one point behind and one league place ahead of where we were after our best ever start to a Premier League season (2015-16). We are only four points off fifth in the league. After our really difficult run of matches in October and November (Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester, Chelsea and Liverpool consecutively) we have only lost twice in eleven matches including taking points off of Arsenal and Manchester City. We have accumulated fifteen points from those eleven matches which if replicated for the whole season would give us over fifty points – our best points total in the Premier League ever.
The January transfer window is still open (as I write this) and it seems pretty clear (touching wood just in case!) that Wilf is going nowhere for now. We have brought in an international striker on loan who knows the Premier League and has already scored one goal and looks capable of scoring more. With an eye to keeping the squad fresh we have also signed a young winger with clear potential. With our penchant for last minute deals we may well be bringing more players in with rumours of Yannick Carrasco not going away (just yet). With a number of players coming back from injury over the coming weeks regardless of any more new signings, we could be looking at refreshed and dynamic squad for the second half of the season. Given that we tend to finish the season strongly, is a top seven finish out of the question?
There is, of course, another version of where we are now and if you listen to the post Southampton reaction this is the more accurate prognosis for the rest of the season. No one can deny we have a small squad with clear gaps based on the comings and goings in the summer transfer window – light on full backs (both injured) and attacking threat other than Wilf, the recent run of injuries has shown have thin our squad is. Over the hectic Christmas period those players were run into the ground and the Southampton performance was when reality finally bit despite the previous heroics of the team.
We are in fact only seven points clear of the relegation zone and with upcoming matches against a Sheffield United having a remarkable season and an Everton seeking renewal under Carlo Ancelotti, a couple more losses and some unfavourable other results could have us looking over our shoulder. Whilst our recent good run has been good news, there have been far more draws than wins and our lack of goal scoring has not changed. Without our solid defence it’s hard to see how a regular flow of points will continue – unless something changes we are going to struggle to out score any teams.
Whilst everyone is hoping that our recent bad luck with injuries is coming to an end, there is no guarantee that will be the case with a small squad where there has been little rotation of players, largely out of necessity. Injuries to Wilf and/or Ayew would leave our current thin attack positively anaemic!
Finally there is the persistent grumbling about our playing style under Roy. Too cautious and concerned about not conceding as opposed to giving the players licence to attack, with the end result that the supporters have very little to cheer about. When we do go behind or need a goal to win a match, there is little evidence of bold tactical changes or exciting substitutions to turn the match. There have been too many matches recently where middling – at best – teams (Brighton, Norwich and Southampton) have played us off the pitch for large periods of the match. Whilst Roy’s tried and trusted methods mean we are almost never out of any match it does also mean we can struggle to ever totally dominate a match with exciting football.
Where you stand on this season probably depends on whether you are a glass half full or empty person. For me, with a little luck re injuries and/or more signings, we could have a top half finish in our sights, or even top seven. Yes, Roy is by nature cautious in his tactical approach but it has stood us in very good stead since he arrived.
When he has got the right calibre of player at his disposal we have played some exciting football. The 5-0 thrashing of Leicester in 2018, the 3-1 away demolition of Burnley last season and the three goals against Brighton in 2018 (will ignore the two conceded) all show that Palace under Roy are capable of playing some exciting football.
I have no doubt that there will be some more bumps along the way but I am cautiously optimistic that this could be our best Premier League season yet.