For the first time this season, it’s time to assess the Palace performance and highlight the areas we should learn from. This week, I have sifted through the wreckage of the defeat to Chelsea and have come up with a few things we can take from the opening day loss.
Nothing Was Expected Of Palace
There was a point on Saturday when the Chelsea supporters started chanting “who are ya?!” in the direction of the away end. That’s Chelsea, who have just spent more money on one player – Romelu Lukaku, for anyone wondering – than Crystal Palace have in the last four seasons combined. We were never going to learn much about Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace from an away game against the European champions, especially given that the Frenchman had a young, understrength squad to choose from. Even the most optimistic of Palace fan wouldn’t have expected much from this fixture, so the fact it played out the way many of us anticipated shouldn’t be too dispiriting. It might not have been the eye-catching result we all wanted to kickstart a new era, but just because it wasn’t doesn’t mean that now is the time to panic.
Comparison To De Boer Is Lazy
On the subject of panicking, for some people to already be making comparisons between Vieira and Frank de Boer is extremely lazy. Both lost their opening game as Palace manager 3-0, but the similarities end there. De Boer’s first fixture in charge was at home to a newly promoted Huddersfield side, while Vieira’s was a trip to the recently crowned Champions League winners. That’s also without mentioning the way De Boer reportedly alienated senior members of the squad, showed players up in training and tried to force square pegs into round holes.
The two criticisms I would have of Saturday were Vieira’s choice to start with a 4-4-2 formation, which nullified the threat of Wilfried Zaha in the first half, as well as Palace’s decision to play out from the back with individuals who clearly weren’t comfortable doing so against such high quality opposition. That being said, there hasn’t yet been anything yet to suggest that those same issues we saw with De Boer will arise with Vieira, so the comparisons at this stage – while slightly predictable – are both premature and unfair.
New Centre Back Partnership Looks Promising
Marc Guehi immediately looked the most comfortable of Palace’s back four on the ball and appeared to strike up a decent understanding with Joachim Andersen when the Dane came on in the second half. One player who looked a little less at ease with the way Vieira wants to play out from the back was Cheikhou Kouyate, who will hopefully soon be moved back into his preferred position in midfield.
Having lost the likes of Scott Dann, Gary Cahill and Mamadou Sakho, Palace do need someone to step up as the leader of the back four this season. Some of the goals the Eagles conceded yesterday were soft, so Vieira will be hoping that either Guehi or Andersen can take on that role sooner rather than later.
Midfield Continues To Be An Issue
The midfield is another area that Vieira will want to address quickly. He had little alternative yesterday than to start with a three of James McArthur, Jairo Riedewald and Jeffrey Schlupp, but the game seemed to pass the trio by. Conor Gallagher will add some much needed energy to the midfield and he should also be able to provide more of a link with the forwards than we saw against Chelsea. That, coupled with the return of Luka Milivojevic, the potential to move Kouyate back into the middle, and the rumoured potential arrival of Will Hughes from Watford, should give Vieira more than enough options to land on a combination that works moving forward.
Vieira Tenure Needs Time And Patience
Saturday was a sobering reminder that this is going to require time and patience. Vieira was missing a number of key players against Chelsea and Palace are likely to be trying to add to the squad right up until the close of the transfer window. That, though, does give reason to be optimistic. With the likes of Christian Benteke, Gallagher, Andersen and Michael Olise – not to mention Eberechi Eze further down the line – to come into the team, it would only be fair to assume that things will get better under the new manager.
However, it isn’t going to get any easier. Brentford were excellent in their opening game, and Palace have to play Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in their next nine games. We can’t judge Vieira on yesterday’s result, and it’s likely we won’t be able to truly judge him until he has a full squad to choose from and has navigated what is an unenviable start to the season. It’s likely that we will have to experience some short-term pain before seeing some of the long-term gains.