From Sakho to Andersen, Dann to Guehi – Palace’s defence is turning to youth as Vieira’s revolution continues

The spotlight has been on Steve Parish and the rest of the Palace board as the sheer number of contracts expiring has left a huge holes throughout the squad, none more evident than in the backline.

 

Scott Dann, Mamadou Sakho, Gary Cahill, Patrick van Aanholt, Nathaniel Clyne, and Joel Ward all found themselves without a club as the 2020/21 season concluded.

Ward and Clyne have since continued their stay in South London adding cover to the right-back slot with Nathan Ferguson’s injury problems continuing to halt his push into the first team.

Centre Back

New centre-backs were the priority going into the window with only Martin Kelly and James Tomkins being kept on retainer, the latter only managing to rack up eight appearances in the Premier League last season as he continued to add to his already countless number of fitness issues.

In steps Marc Guehi. A statement signing. A clear signal of Palace’s change in direction. No longer were aging players going to be signed on huge wages with too many years on their contracts.

Now it’s young players, with bags of potential, being signed on sensible wages for sensible fees. £18 million is what it cost to sign arguably the best centre back in the Championship last season.

On loan at Swansea from Chelsea, Guehi was a mainstay as the Welsh side got to the play-off final – winning the man of the match awards in both legs of the semi-finals against Barnsley.

All the signs point towards the 21-year-old being nothing short of a brick wall in red and blue. His strengths come in reading the game, as he completed an average of 3.2 tackles and interceptions in the Championship last season.

Guehi also enjoys dribbling out from the back and has a wide range of passing, something Vieira will be looking to rely on as he moves Palace to a more progressive style of play.

Then comes his new partner, a diamond in the rough that was Fulham’s season. Despite interest from Tottenham, Joachim Andersen is making the move to Selhurst Park for a fee in the region of £15-20 million.

Like Guehi, Andersen has a knack for long range passing and playing out from the back. In the Premier League last season, the Danish international was in the 94th percentile for successful long passes, completing 13.09 per 90.

A partnership like that will perfectly compliment Vieira’s gameplan as they both are able to play on the front foot, without compromising the defensive side of their game.

Left Back

Tyrick Mitchell is finally able to cement his position at left-back following van Aanholt’s departure.

Mitchell’s performances over the past one and a half seasons have shown he’s more than able to hold his own and even excel in the Premier League.

The 21-year-old averaged 4.5 tackles and interceptions per 90 last season, thriving in the Roy Hodgson’s rigid, defensive system.

If this pre-season is anything to go by, under Vieira the youngster will be asked to get forward a lot more and join the attack when the team has increased spells of possession.

It’s unexplored territory for Mitchell as he previously only registered an average of 0.3 crosses and 0.2 key passes per match in the Premier League.

His backup is currently looking like it’ll be youth player Reece Hannam, who found himself on the bench for the first team multiple times last season.

For the u23s, Hannam was excellent pushing forward and putting pinpoint crosses into the box, something which would’ve certainly caught Vieira’s eye.

However, there are still question marks over whether the 20-year-old is ready for the step up and it remains to be seen if the Palace heirarchy go in for someone more experienced before the end of the transfer window.

Right Back

Similar attacking issues are found in the right-back slot, as a progressive style is something players under Hodgson never had to deal with.

Clyne is looking likely to be the starter come August 14th as he has experience playing out from the back from his time at Liverpool, something which can’t be said for Joel Ward.

In his prime for the Merseyside club, the 30-year-old was averaging 1.2 key passes and an 83% pass accuracy per game.

However, injury issues could see the right side of defence have a constant change of personnel throughout the season.

Since he arrived at Palace, Nathan Ferguson hasn’t managed to train with the first team for more than a few weeks before being put back on the treatment table, and Clyne’s injury record is far from spotless.

Joel Ward’s consistency could prove crucial in holding this backline together, being the only one out of the three having not been plagued by any continuing fitness issues.

Attacking wise the 31-year-old is close to non-existent but, when on the back foot, the team can count on the veteran to pop up with crucial challenges and put his body on the line for the cause – something which has been consistent throughout his nine years in red and blue.

With Vincente Guaita behind them, if Patrick Vieira can get the best out of all these players, the Palace defence could be one of the strongest outside of the big six, and it’ll only get better as the young players mature and grow closer to their primes.

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  1. Great article, certainly exciting times ahead for us Palace fans. It’s great to see younger players coming into the first team squad after the past few years, energy within the team will be crucial to the new managers style of play. I think patience will be needed for all the new signings to knit together but once they do, a comfortable mid table finish should be achievable. Up the Palace!

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