Premier League

Hodgson to Hoist Eagles to Safety

Roy Hodgson will have his first test as Crystal Palace manager this weekend, when the Eagles welcome Southampton to Selhurst Park. The ex-England boss became Crystal Palace’s fourth manager in less than 10 months, after Steve Parish put a halt to Frank de Boer’s meagre 77 days in charge.

Come Saturday, Roy Hodgson will be only the third manager to take charge of a Premier League team in his 70s. The late Sir Bobby Robson holds the record for the oldest manager in Premier League history and, similar to Hodgson, managed a Newcastle side who failed to win any of their first four games of the 2004/2005 season. Subsequently, this poor run of form cost Bobby his job.

One of the many key differences between Bobby Robson’s Magpies and Hodgson’s Eagles (aside from having different avian mascots), however, is that the ex-Barcelona manager had a team who weren’t short of goals. Roy, it seems, doesn’t have this luxury. In fact, should Crystal Palace lose and fail to score against Southampton, they will be the first top-flight side in history to open a season with five defeats and no goals. Coincidentally, the team who currently holds this unwanted record is Newcastle – who took 438 minutes to score a league goal in the 2005/2006 season.

Palace’s head-to-head stats with Southampton make for hard reading too:

  • Crystal Palace have won just two of their 16 Premier League matches against Southampton, (D4 L10).
  • Saints have won three of their last four meetings with Crystal Palace in all competitions.
  • Crystal Palace’s xG (expected goals) figure in the Premier League this season is 4.73 – suggesting that an average team would have scored five goals from the chances they’ve had. This xG tally is higher than Chelsea’s (4.08), who have scored eight goals.

So, with such a wince worthy bag of stats on show, does Roy really have the managerial wizardry to turn his former club’s fortunes around?

Actually, I think he does.

Putting his short-lived international career to one side (a job which has claimed the careers of some top-class managers), Hodgson actually boasts some impressive domestic honours.

In 2007, Roy took charge of a Fulham side in the middle of a relegation battle and, against all odds, kept the club up. He took a run of twelve points from the last five games of the season, including a 3–2 win over Manchester City, and secured the Cottagers’ survival.

Some two and a half years after taking charge, he then led Fulham to the Europa League final, where his side lost 2-1 to Atlético Madrid in extra time. In the same year, he was voted the 2010 LMA Manager of the Year by a record margin.

Then there is his time outside of the U.K…

  • Halmstads BK
    • Allsvenskan: 1976, 1979
  • Örebro SK
    • Division 2 North: 1984
  • Malmö FF
    • Allsvenskan: 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989
    • Svenska Cupen: 1985–86, 1988–89
  • Neuchâtel Xamax
    • Swiss Super Cup: 1990
  • Inter Milan
    • UEFA Cup runner-up: 1997
  • Copenhagen
    • Danish Superliga: 2000–01
    • Danish Super Cup: 2001

Not bad for an old codger…

While I don’t think Hodgson’s influence will be instantaneous, I do think we will see his usual 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system pay dividend after 6 or 7 games. Roy is a hands on coach and, like Sam Allardyce, will put an emphasis on fixing the team’s defensive frailties as a matter of priority. And so he should too – Palace’s next three games are away at Manchester United, Manchester City and at home to Chelsea.

Former Fulham and Palace defender Brede Hangeland, who worked under Hodgson at the Cottagers and Norwegian side Viking FK recently, told the BBC:

“If you embrace Hodgson’s ideas, they work. If Palace believe in him as players and as a team, they will be very, very hard to play against after a while.”

And I think he’s right. Like his time at West Brom, Roy will make sure each one of his players knows their exact role on the pitch. The Palace players can expect plenty of extra training sessions, too; Roy is not a man scared of over-preparing for games and highlighting his player’s weaknesses.

For me, Hodgson is a cracking appointment, and one which I’m sure will pay dividend come the end of the season. The only question is how quickly he can whip his men into shape, and whether they’re willing to listen.

As for this weekend: I think Palace will get off the mark by scraping a point against a stuttering Saints side.

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