During lockdown, TEB invited fellow Palace fans to share their own views and stories about the club and we had several come forward to do just that which we were more than happy to share online. One of those was Jon Sayers who did this piece, and has been in touch to share his views on the build up to the new campaign.
Before discussing the events of Saturday’s final pre-season warm up game, I need to acknowledge and applaud the fundamental change of approach by Palace owners that has enabled this summer of signings to happen.
Somehow, Palace have transformed from skint for years to suddenly being one of the biggest net spenders in the Premier League. I can only wonder how this came about.
Perhaps the shareholders have dug into their wealth and coughed some ready cash into SP’s hands? If so, why now? Why not before?
Maybe reaching the end of installment payments for the 2016/17 spend up on Benteke, PVA, Milovojevic, Schlupp and Sakho has suddenly released a bundle of cash?
Or could it be that the ending of so many overpaying contracts on the same day just a few weeks ago has enabled the release of those players, a deep sigh of relief and replacement with youngsters who don’t expect the astronomic wages Palace have been paying?
Or have new techniques in football financing enabled the Board to mortgage the playing assets (like ordinary people mortgage their home) to get some cash in the club’s hands that can be spent in club record amounts at club record speed to bring at least 3 potential glittering stars to Crystal Palace, all in just a few weeks?
I don’t know which of these four explanations applies, but I wholeheartedly appreciate the switch in transfer strategy and the brighter outlook.
I hope at least that we’ve left behind buying older players who are somewhat guaranteed to keep us safe in the Premier League, and moved to the Mike Ashley model of buying younger players who look like they’ll produce the goods in this league plus increase their value over the next 2 to 3 years. Because the talent influx of the last 12 months means that we now have several players who we can sell if needs must – and they’ll fetch decent prices.
Before Eze and Ferguson arrived, with Roy’s brief to just keep us up, we couldn’t afford to sell anyone at all. And nobody but Zaha would have fetched more than pocket money anyway.
Now it’s a win-win toss of the coin. Heads, these starlets prove to actually be accomplished players in the making and we move up the league and make more money. Tails, the experiment falls apart in front of our eyes, we get relegated and we can sell them for good prices. And aim to recoup our costs at the very least.
This new strategy carries extra importance because this “upheaval” is an ongoing issue. At the end of the season just starting, it will be similar to what we just experienced. Seven more first team squad players will be out of contract – Kouyate, Tomkins, Clyne, McArthur, Schlupp, Mateta and Ayew. And Gallagher will be back at Stamford Bridge.
Moving on, the other action that I want to praise SP for is his boldness and persistence in recruiting the new manager we have. I’ve got no idea if Vieira will survive in this ruthless, impatient business, but – after a process which lifted our hopes and deeply disappointed us all over and over as Nuno and Favre both almost came but didn’t – we now have Patrick Vieira. He’s real, he’s charismatic and he’s here! Thank you!
Which brings us to August 7, 2021. It was fascinating to watch Palace on Saturday with the fresh, new leadership that Vieira provides.
Remember, ten of this game’s starting eleven had been available to Roy Hodgson for several years, so this pre-season friendly was actually much more about Vieira and his “style” and much less about a midsummer overhaul with four new signings bringing fresh hope to fans coming back home to slurst after Covid.
Pause for a moment now for a quick cold shower of reality. This of course is the one week of the entire annual footy cycle when hope burns its brightest flame. Despite an intimidating start to the season in a fixture list featuring a liberal early sprinkling of top opponents, there is now hope in abundance at Slurst from fans desperate to see the Palace testing big name clubs and players like never before.
This is not limited to just staying up. Not yet anyway.
Now, I grant you that a 3-1 friendly win over newly promoted Watford is a result that doesn’t tell us much. But, if we dig deeper, there was in fact plenty for us to learn.
At the core of the team, the seven “old reliables” (average age 30+) were true, strong and steady. Guaita, Ward, Kouyate, McArthur, Schlupp and Ayew led by Zaha as captain all performed capably and, between them, they barely put a foot wrong all day.
They implemented Vieira’s press all over the pitch with energy and enthusiasm. When the ball was lost, the team instantly worked together and with passion to win it right back.
And Zaha scored twice, once from the spot and again when McArthur terminated Watford possession just ten yards outside their penalty area and slipped a perfect ball forward to Zaha who evaded a tackle as he closed in on goal and fired past the keeper.
But what of the “youngsters” in Vieira’s starting eleven?
Riedewald, aged 24, was calmly here, there and everywhere, even taking free kicks and all corners and pocketing one assist for the corner that gave us a classic Benteke header, a flashback to his Villa days when you always knew it was a goal from the moment he headed the ball.
Mitchell, aged 21, was simply outstanding. Not only did he cope comfortably with a highly rated trickster in Sarr, he also served up an early killer cross that saw an unmarked Zaha have a wild swing and miss.
Then, when a clearance from a Riedewald free kick landed at his feet, Mitchell’s intelligent first time chip to Zaha was a pass that nobody saw coming. Realizing that he was now the only defender between Zaha and his own keeper, Danny Rose launched an impetuous tackle that whipped Zaha’s legs away and put the ref’s whistle to his lips. From the penalty, Zaha turned Mitchell’s vision and execution into a 1-0 lead, albeit none too convincingly as the keeper got a big hand to his low shot.
When Mitchell was injured late on, Hannam took over and was instantly torched by Sarr, but Guehi cut out the danger. And, within minutes, Hannam found himself unmarked in front of goal with a clear chance but, faced by three defenders as well as the goalie, he chose to place his shot rather than go for power and it was deflected wide for a corner.
Mateta, aged 24, worked very hard, leading the charge in the Vieira press, but saw no service at all in the first half. The second half was slightly better. Mateta had a couple of chances from crosses that he failed to reach. And one time, he broke through alone after beating his man 40 yards out. He then brushed Rose aside with an exaggerated (and beautiful) shoulder charge but was still crowded out and in that instant I saw several Watford shirts around him but not one palace shirt within 30 yards. No belief that it was worth the effort to support him?
JPM was replaced by Benteke with around 10 minutes left that were very eventful for the Belgian. First he deflected a Deeney chip into his own net and then he thumped a carefully placed header home at the other end from Riedewald’s corner.
The only new signing in this Palace starting line up was Guehi, 21, a very smooth and classy centre back who already looks part of the team apart from just the one error when he missed a low cross in the first half, allowing the ball to proceed dangerously across the goal until Ward came to the rescue. Guehi will have a sleepless night or two over that one, but otherwise he contributed very well both defensively and in possession with his quick passes, especially accurate and low, both into central midfield and out to Mitchell.
As a team, there will have to be an inquest into how Palace allowed Hernandez a free header six yards out from a first half corner – he hit the post, and that was an escape.
From the bench, as indicated, Benteke and Hannam stood out. Rak-Sakyi provided a promising and confident cameo as a thin, young version of Zaha. And Gallagher gave us an outstanding 20 aggression packed minutes – four fouls (2 immediately to let Watford midfielders know he was there), and some cute, quick passing with one super crossfield pass that Ayew controlled superbly before botching his cross. Gallagher was busy busy busy, always pushing Palace forward.
Beyond today’s bench, Palace still have in reserve Andersen, 25, the Danish international centre back, Tomkins (32) as well as 30-year-olds Clyne and Luka. In the long-term treatment room are Eze, 23, Olise, 19, and Ferguson, 20.
Bottom line? With new energy and attitudes on and off the pitch, with so much added youth, talent and strength on the sidelines, optimism burns brightly in the face of expert opinion which views Palace as relegation candidates.
Predictions by Bettingexpert.com, the Guardian and TalkSport are unanimous as all see Palace ending up seventeenth in the season starting Friday, the narrowest possible escape from relegation. Four Four Two sees Palace finishing rock bottom.
While much has been said and written about the impacts of upheaval and change at Palace, what stood out most today was a story of the same old faces but with a brand new leader in Vieira who was setting new challenges, asking new questions and demanding new responses, providing the pleasure (in this game at least) of watching a team we know well playing a fresh, different, better, positive way, a way that sadly Roy could never see.