x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The problems at Palace are crystal clear

Crystal Palace's squad have too many players not up to Premier League standard, writes Richard Jolly.

Ian Holloway says his Crystal Palace side ‘have not been playing badly’ yet they have won only once in seven Premier League games. Paul Gilham / Getty Images
Ian Holloway says his Crystal Palace side ‘have not been playing badly’ yet they have won only once in seven Premier League games. Paul Gilham / Getty Images

Having alienated the dressing room and lost rather too many games, they may not miss Paolo Di Canio much at Sunderland, but there is at least one club who can be grateful for the Italian’s endeavours this season.

But for Di Canio, and a hapless performance from his team at Selhurst Park on August 31, Crystal Palace could be pointless.

Instead, they at least have a victory to show for their efforts.

But that is all: with six defeats in seven games, with only one goal in the last four, it is easy to see why Monday’s London derby against Fulham is being billed as a must-win match, though Ian Holloway somewhat disagreed.

“It is a must-not-lose game,” the Palace manager said.

But if his side do not prevail, after all, where will three points come from? After Fulham, the next visitors to Selhurst Park are Arsenal and Everton.

Holloway, who already appeared to have concluded that the world was conspiring against him in the opening-weekend loss to Tottenham Hotspur, has scarcely seemed more upbeat since.

“We have to keep our pride and passion,” he said.

It was a strangely defeatist comment, as though losing respectably is enough. Nevertheless, it was understandable. The majority of Palace’s games have been away from home, and as if that were not tough enough, they have already played three of the probable final top six. Still, it has the makings of a long, hard season.

In some respects, it is shaping up to be the opposite of Holloway’s previous taste of the top flight.

While Blackpool were eventually relegated in 2010/11, the feel-good factor survived until the final weeks.

As they claimed several notable victims, there was something brilliantly illogical about their progress: they attacked the elite and troubled.

Cut-price recruits who were cast-offs, borrowed or unearthed at lower-division clubs had a habit of coming in and making an immediate impact. Everything that should not have worked actually did.

Remembering Blackpool’s spirited and strangely successful approach, Holloway decided to be more positive when Palace went to Anfield 16 days ago.

Liverpool, after all, had lost home and away to his Blackpool side, so he played winger Jason Puncheon in the centre of midfield, overloaded his team with forward-thinking players and went 3-0 down before half time. This was reality biting.

If it required a leap of faith to believe that strikers Marouane Chamakh (scorer of five goals in his previous 55 club games) and Cameron Jerome (five in a mere 52) would deliver victory at Anfield, it is the product of Palace’s problems recruiting.

It scarcely helps that last season’s 30-goal top scorer Glenn Murray will not feature until December because of a knee injury, or that their greatest talent, Wilfried Zaha, joined Manchester United.

The promotion-winning team was weakened before a ball was kicked.

Holloway cut a frustrated figure before the season began as his premier targets eluded them. Instead of quality, he brought in quantity.

Palace made 16 summer signings. So many, in fact, that there was not room in their 25-man squad for two of them.

If the thinking seems confused, the squad appears populated by good Championship players, rather than their Premier League counterparts. Few of the newcomers, unlike their Blackpool counterparts, have made an immediate impact.

Their valiant captain, Mile Jedinak, has acquitted himself well in midfield and he is one of the old guard. Otherwise, selection has seemed a game of musical chairs.

Twenty-four players have already appeared in the league, with a further six more being unused substitutes. The search for a winning formula has been frantic and fruitless.

“We have not been playing badly,” Holloway said. Yet, apart from against Sunderland, they have rarely played well.

And so a club whose four previous Premier League campaigns all culminated in relegation find themselves hoping history will repeat itself on the day – as Martin Jol, like Di Canio, an under-pressure manager, arrives at Selhurst Park – but not over the season as whole.

sports@thenational.ae

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