Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace have had a disappointing start to the Premier League season; after picking up nine points from eight games they currently sit only two places above the drop zone, and now urgent change is needed at Selhurst Park if they want to avoid another relegation scrap.
Hodgson and his squad are preparing for an extremely tough run of games and will likely be pleased to come away with any points from their next four, with visits from Arsenal and Spurs and trips to Chelsea and Manchester United.
Hodgson can do no wrong in many Palace fans’ eyes after the miracles he pulled off last season, and admittedly they are much better off now than they were at this point last season – but there are some big warning signs.
There are three things in particular that need to be done in SE25 by the second half of the season because with a nightmare run of fixtures coming up, Palace could find themselves languishing in the bottom three and could find it difficult to drag themselves out.
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The Eagles were beaten 2-0 by Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday following a late flurry from the hosts, but decisions from the dugout, and a lack thereof, were the difference between the two sides.
A masterstroke from Toffees boss Marco Silva saw the game flipped on its head, as strikers Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun were introduced alongside the flair of Ademola Lookman. All three subs were involved in the goals that followed.
The game was won by a brave tactical change by Silva, whose three substitutions were decisive and turned what was looking like one point into three.
Silva’s opposite number waited until Everton had effectively won the game to introduce fresh legs, with the token substitution of Connor Wickham for James McArthur essentially just to get the former back on the pitch after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Hodgson was unwilling to adapt and go after the game and it cost his side, as it has on other occasions this season.
A point against Everton would have been a respectable result for Palace and Hodgson cannot be criticised for not throwing the kitchen sink at the game and going after all three points, but he should be criticised for not recognising that the opposition were going for the win and changing his side to counter that.
Silva had a plan B and Hodgson didn’t; one of the keys to survival in the Premier League is being able to adapt to what is in front of you in that moment.
A lot of the Palace faithful might disagree with this one, considering Frank De Boer’s disastrous attempt to do something similar last season, but Hodgson would be unlikely to introduce ‘total football’ with it and would probably have a very different approach.
The appeal of playing five at the back – or three, depending on how you look at it – is the ability to quickly switch between defensive solidity and attacking threat. The wing-backs are the key in such formations and Palace potentially have a couple of pretty decent ones in Patrick van Aanholt and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Wan-Bissaka has been the silver lining for the Eagles this season, scooping Man of the Match on two occasions and being voted as Palace’s Player of the Month twice in a row. Dutchman van Aanholt is better going forward than he is in defence, having scored six goals in the league since the start of the 17/18 season, with only Marcos Alonso having scored more. Both would be effective for the Croydon outfit in slightly more advanced roles and would provide closer support for the forwards.
Summer signing Cheikhou Kouyate could be the third centre-back or protect the back four with captain Luka Milivojevic in what would be a 5-3-2. Max Meyer can player further afield giving him the opportunity to get into dangerous areas and Andros Townsend and the talismanic Wilfried Zaha can continue upfront.
It’s a mouthwatering prospect but probably too drastic a change for Hodgson to make.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Palace’s biggest problem is the lack of a centre-forward who can reliably put the ball in the back of the net. The Eagles have scored only five goals so far this season in the Premier League, with only Huddersfield scoring fewer (four), and are once again overly reliant on Zaha in the final third.
The Ivorian looked particularly isolated on Sunday, his teammates may as well have been in the stands as they showed no desire to support the number 11, who was at times taking on three or four players at once. The speedster would greatly benefit from a striker that he can bounce off and that can take the pressure off scoring away from home.
Signing a quality centre-forward in January is an absolute must and by doing so would mean that Zaha can be deployed on the wing; he is most effective when he is able to run at a full-back and it would be like getting two new signings.
While addressing Palace’s goalscoring woes should be top of the agenda, bringing in a classy centre-back should be up there, too. Fans were thrilled when a permanent deal for Mamadou Sakho was sealed in the summer, with the Frenchman making the switch from Liverpool to London in time for De Boer’s short reign.
However, the former PSG man has cost his side points this season. The 6-foot-2 defender missed a glaring opportunity to take the lead against Newcastle; gave away a silly penalty against Bournemouth in the dying minutes and, most recently, failed to pick up Calvert-Lewin in the box and got the wrong side of Tosun on Sunday.
The partnership of James Tomkins and Sakho kept three clean sheets in an unbeaten last six games for Palace in the 17/18 season but hasn’t looked as watertight recently. A centre-back who is capable of replacing the 28-year-old when his form dips should be signed in January.