New arrivals give Crystal Palace a hope that Alan Pardew’s side desperately need
It was not the word most Crystal Palace fans would have used to describe their team’s recent record on the road.
“Our home form is a frustration for me,” Alan Pardew said in his press conference before last Saturday’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur. “But away, we are outstanding.”
It was a rather odd description given that Palace have not triumphed at a top-flight stadium other than their own since December 2015. Pardew’s men have not been much better at home, either, winning only two of their last 11 Premier League matches at Selhurst Park, and their overall record this calendar year makes for very grim reading.
Pardew began life in the Palace dugout brilliantly following his appointment in January 2015, the former Newcastle United manager lifting the team he represented as a midfielder in the late 1980s and early 1990s out of the relegation zone and into mid-table.
Palace also got off to a flying start last season, winning nine of their first 17 encounters to sit level on points with fourth-placed Tottenham near the halfway point of the campaign.
“We are on the fringes of contesting for a Champions League place,” Pardew said at the time. “Our dream is not 10th again as we are good enough to finish top six.”
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Things did not work out as planned. Palace’s slump in the second half of the season saw them end 2015/16 in 15th. A run to the FA Cup final and injuries suffered by the likes of Yannick Bolasie and James McArthur were held up as key reasons for their collapse, but after spending £50 million (Dh242.6m) on new players this summer, Pardew will be aware that the tide needs to turn soon.
Palace were perhaps a little unfortunate to lose on the opening day, when Salomon Rondon’s header from a free-kick handed West Bromwich Albion all three points in a game of few chances. They were poor against Tottenham last weekend, though, fashioning hardly any clear-cut opportunities and conceding another late set-piece goal.
Palace’s protracted downturn has seen Pardew’s popularity among supporters take a hit in recent months, a situation exacerbated by the recent departure of club legend Mile Jedinak. The captain who led Palace to promotion, Premier League survival and their first cup final in over 25 years was mysteriously stripped of the armband by Pardew during pre-season, a move which many fans perceived as an underhand attempt to weaken his position at Selhurst Park.
Pardew, 55, still has enough credit in the bank to be given the time to turn things around, but defeat by Bournemouth on Saturday would pile more pressure onto his shoulders.
McArthur, Steve Mandanda, Christian Benteke and Yohan Cabaye could all start for the first time in the Premier League this season, and supporters will expect a victory against the only team who sit below them in the early standings.
The acquisition of Benteke from Liverpool is a promising one, with the Belgium international set to add more of a goalscoring threat to the side. As centre-back Damien Delaney pointed out this week, however, Palace’s principal problem in their first two games has been a lack of chance creation rather than bad finishing, and the belief that Benteke will instantly solve all of their ills is erroneous.
Nevertheless, Palace now have the makings of a solid mid-table side and, with new arrivals bedded in and injuries recovered from, they could begin to climb up the table.
Most of the excuses have now been exhausted, though, and Pardew may find his head on the chopping block if he is unable to turn things around sooner rather than later.
Hojbjerg a good player ... and a good talker
If you closed your eyes and listened to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s interview after Southampton’s 2-0 defeat by Manchester United last week, you would have thought he was a manager rather than a player.
“I didn’t see the stats but I think we had the ball quite a lot,” he told Sky Sports. “I think we dominated quite a lot but the last pass, the last detail, the last dribble was missing.
“But we came to Old Trafford and we tried to be brave. We tried to play. We tried not to hide. This is a positive, but we need to analyse what we can do better.”
It was a mature and intelligent summary of a match in which Hojbjerg earned plaudits for his work on the field as well as his talking off it.
Southampton have a habit of transitioning between different managers and squads of players with minimum fuss. When Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Adam Lallana followed Mauricio Pochettino through the exit door in 2014, the club’s supporters began to ready themselves for a relegation battle. Instead, Ronald Koeman guided a new-look team to seventh place, their highest top-flight finish in 30 years.
Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin then departed in the summer of 2015, yet Southampton actually improved and ended the season in sixth.
Things may be a little more difficult this time around, with most sides in the division getting significantly stronger in the last two months. Southampton, conversely, have arguably been weakened, both through Koeman’s defection to Everton and the sales of Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama.
The club should not panic, though, despite a return of just one point from their opening two matches. The acquisition of Hojbjerg – rated highly by Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich – is an excellent example of Southampton’s smart recruitment, and the 21-year-old midfielder is sure to impress throughout the rest of the season.
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Updated: August 26, 2016 04:00 AM