Ahead of the visit of Wolves this weekend, TEB had a chat with OSCILLATING WILDLY to get his views on their season so far, thoughts on the game and much more.
Q. This will be the third meeting between the two sides this season, so what did you make of the two games at Molineux in the league and cup?
I’ve a lot of respect for what Palace as a club have done since promotion and for Roy Hodgson in particular. But oddly, in these two games (and indeed the game at the end of last season, post-restart) we’ve had an incredibly easy ride which I wasn’t expecting at all. No shots on target at all in the cup game, completely opening yourselves up to our wing-backs in the league fixture. It was not what I expect from a normally well-drilled outfit. There’s always going to be a threat on the break with the attacking players you have but tactically it’s seemed strange on both occasions. I can only think it was a bit of an aberration, either that or Roy is a closet Wolves fan!
Q. How is this campaign been for Wolves so far?
More than fair to say that it’s been a bit of a backward step. The progress since Nuno came in has been a continual upward curve…now, that can’t continue indefinitely. So we have definitely had the difficult third album as far as the Premier League goes. It’s not all been bad, it’s not like we’ve been playing terribly, but there have been uncharacteristic errors, a bit of a lack of structure (very odd for a Nuno team), games that in the last two years we’ve edged that have gone the other way, but then the margins are always so fine. We’ve had plenty of wins in those two seasons where we could have lost on another day…well, now is that other day. We’re in transition, would be the kind way to put it. There’s no real danger of relegation especially given the paucity of the current bottom three, but we are going to have to take a small step back, there’s no doubt about that. Clearly any team that loses their best player for any length of time is going to struggle and that has happened to us with Raul Jimenez, enhanced in our case as we’ve pretty much never had proper back up for him. Other injuries to Jonny, Willy Boly and lately Daniel Podence haven’t helped either.
Q. Nuno Espirito Santo has done a great job since being appointed boss, but with the way the season has gone so far, is the pressure now on?
Oh, not really, other than in the more lunatic fringes of the Internet. I can’t imagine that if we were allowed back into grounds at present (and as I’m sure you guys feel too, it’s a huge void for players, management and spectators alike), he’d be feeling any particular heat at all. He’s got incredible amounts of credit in the bank. It’s not to say he’s infallible, he can make mistakes and has done. He can be too conservative tactically and with substitutions, the jury is also out in terms of our semi-permanent switch to four at the back having never played that ever under his tenure until a couple of months ago. But no, he’s as safe as houses here in general in terms of fans – and critically, the board are not in any way inclined to be sacking him. It won’t happen. If anything impacts on his future, it’s that most of his family are in Portugal and he hasn’t seen them for months. Sadly, this is the world we’re in at the moment.
Q. With the January transfer window coming to a close, what business were you expecting Wolves to do?
I was expecting nothing; we scarcely do anything and we seemed to be briefing as much only a couple of weeks ago. Recalling Morgan Gibbs-White and Patrick Cutrone from loan spells seemed to indicate we’d go with what we have. But I think the loss to West Brom (don’t, I’m still not over it) spooked the board and management a little bit and so we’ve signed Willian José just to give us a serious option up front. He certainly looks like an exciting signing with a decent record, and for all that I can see the potential in Fabio Silva, it’s something we need right here and now. I don’t expect us to do anything else. In the longer term we need a centre half for sure and a central midfielder who can score goals, but we won’t do that now.
Q. Who has been the stand out player for Wolves so far this season?
Without a doubt it’s been Pedro Neto. Denounced as a Jorge Mendes ringer 18 months ago, he’s now got Rio Ferdinand salivating on BT Sport (although he can pack in trying to sell him to other teams on our behalf). An absolutely superb player with even further to develop. Superb dribbler of the ball, rocket of a shot, mad skillz, what more do you want? I just wonder why Lazio never picked him, odd stuff.
Q. It was shocking to see the injury to Raul Jimenez and we wish him a full recovery but if we are to learn anything from it is that football reacts by bringing in protocols to safeguard the health of players?
Oh, absolutely. We have to take the lead here from other sports and put safety first. There is absolutely no way David Luiz, following that challenge, should have been allowed to play on for the remainder of the first half. An independent assessment should be mandatory and I welcome the introduction of concussion substitutes that seems to be on the cards. I would also say that although no malice was intended, Luiz’s challenge was reckless in that instance – it’s the equivalent of Ryan Shawcross breaking Aaron Ramsey’s leg. Sure, he didn’t mean it, but it still happened. Red card then.
Q. What do you make of Palace this season?
It’s an odd one in that you always expect a Roy Hodgson team to be fundamentally defensively well drilled and organised, a team that will prioritise a clean sheet above all else where possible…yet you have the worst defensive record in the league with West Brom. The fragility on set pieces against West Ham was noticeable (we fell foul of that too and indeed we’ve been very weak in that area all season). Obviously there are bright sparks; you’re always very dangerous on the break and Tyrick Mitchell looks an excellent prospect – Palace can never be accused of ignoring youth. I would suggest that lacking a genuine threat up front hurts you as it has with us in the absence of Raul – given that Christian Benteke appears to have mysteriously forgotten how to be a footballer some time around 2017. Alexander Sorloth turning into a goal machine rather than being the Scandinavian Kevin Kyle must puzzle you even more than it puzzles me.
Q. It has been a tough time for everyone but football fans and clubs have certainly played their part during the pandemic and pulled together which has been particularly pleasing, right?
I think the sport has done wonders for people and the efforts are much appreciated. It’s not the same with no fans inside and the whole matchday experience, but it’s still football. I look back to those March-June days when the best we had was BBC re-runs of old World Cup games and it’s scary. At least we have this. I think as a sport we genuinely are in it together. Fingers crossed for the day when we actually can go back.
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
The aforementioned Neto for us will undoubtedly be a danger but other than that, Adama Traoré. Depends if you get him on a good day or not. On a good day, he can destroy anyone. On a bad day, the best you’ll get is him running towards the corner flag and kicking it out of play. I don’t know what’s going to happen on Saturday and I suspect he doesn’t either. Wilf Zaha is the obvious candidate for you but I’m a huge fan of Eberechi Eze too – I wish we’d gone in for him, particularly at the price you got him for. When we play a three in midfield he’d be ideal for us. Such a clever footballer. You’ve got a real gem there.
Q. …and finallly, your all important prediction?
0 wins in 6 plays 1 win in 9. Something has got to give! But not this time. I’ll go for a repeat of last season’s 1-1 but I’d rather we didn’t leave it until the 94th minute to equalise, thanks.
Other than Saturday, all the best for the rest of the season and stay safe.