Seven games into the season and Crystal Palace were already rooted to the bottom of the table, and given little hope of surviving for a fifth consecutive year in the Premier League. The first seven games, of which Frank De Boer took charge of four and Roy Hodgson two, saw Palace score no goals and more importantly take no points. For most people, it looked as though Palace were heading back to the Championship without a fight.
De Boer was brought in by owner Steve Parish to ‘revolutionise’ the way Palace play; to take them into a new era. But that lasted all but four games and he was gone with a whimper. Palace looked lost under his guidance in the opening games of the season. His tactics and way of playing ultimately didn’t translate across to his players. That combined with the lack of results led Parish to take the step of removing De Boer before things got a whole lot worse.
So the managerial carousel swung once more in SE25. It’s become a familiar sight for Palace fans, just when you think there might be a period which will see a manager last longer than a year, hiccups arise. Sadly, it’s just the nature of Premier League football today.
So, with De Boer sent packing the daunting task of pulling Palace out of the mire fell to Hodgson, the former England manager. At first, the appointment was met with scepticism, with his age considered a factor. Moreover, the way his England career came hurtling down around him in France at the Euro’s in 2016 was another point for consideration amongst the Palace faithful. But now, Palace have lost only two of their last 13 games, and sit 13th in the table on 26 points, three points above the drop zone. It’s remarkable considering where the Eagles were at the beginning of the season.
Back to Basics
Apart from the obvious, which is getting results, Hodgson has reverted back to basics as Palace have pulled away from the danger zone. His way of playing bought him success at Fulham where he led them to a Europa League final in 2010, and it’s no different now, some eight years on. Under Hodgson the Eagles look resolute but dangerous which is in stark contrast to the start of the season.
To some, Hodgson’s way of playing might look cautious and tentative on the eye, but if you delve deeper it’s one that balances defence and attack rather neatly. And it’s become a way of playing that has given Palace every chance of securing a fifth consecutive season in the top flight.
Under De Boer, Palace tried to move to a more possession-based game. A style that looked aesthetically pleasing on the eye, but which clearly didn’t work. Conversely, Hodgson has looked to revert back to basics for a squad which has proved that executing the fundamentals often yields desired results. If you look back, previous managers like Neil Warnock, Tony Pulis, or Sam Allardyce were focussed on getting results regardless of playing style.
Alan Pardew could be the exception to that. He did try to bring a more expansive style to the club, which again ultimately lead to his dismissal – Hodgson might not be a gun-ho type of manager, but he certainly cannot be classed as boring. Some of Palace’s recent displays have been far from boring.
Simplicity Yields Consistency
So how has the former England manager got Palace playing in way that has seen them notch up some well deserved victories?
The overarching theme I take from various interviews from players and people connected with the club is firstly the simplicity and repetition of his work on the training field. And secondly how he has lifted what was a sombre mood around the club. Back at the beginning of the season, relegation looked like a foregone conclusion. Now it’s not.
In the programme notes before Palace’s hard-fought victory over Burnley, defender James Tomkins said: “He’s come in and done a good job. Roy’s kept everything simple such as his training methods. It’s paying off – you can see our defensive shape has improved and if we can build on that we always feel like we’ve got goals in the team.”
The improved defensive shape is there for all to see. Hodgson likes to negate space between the lines, and in Luka Milivojevic he has a midfielder which has been instrumental to the sides’ recent results. But it’s not all about being difficult to beat for Hodgson. Palace has improved in the attacking department and much has been down to Wilfried Zaha’s red hot form.
Hodgson has managed to get a balance between the defensive side and Palace’s renowned attacking style. Under previous managers that attacking verve was often stifled to make way for a more conservative approach, I’m not saying it didn’t work but Hodgson has managed the balance extremely well and results are now flowing.
What should be also noted is that Hodgson has seen this upturn in form coincide with a terrible spate of injuries to key personnel. At the moment Scott Dann, Jason Puncheon, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jeffrey Schlupp and Yohan Cabaye are all sidelined. Those are players that would lift the quality of most top-flight teams. But somehow he has managed that aspect well and with the January transfer window he has addressed with new players coming in to aid what is a significantly depleted squad.
Relegation talk beginning to subside
Palace are now in a position where relegation doesn’t loom as large as it did after De Boer’s ill fated reign. Of course, it still permeates around Selhurst, but there’s a growing sense that everything will be alright come May. Hodgson’s impact has ensured that the Eagles will have as every bit of chance of securing their top-flight status by the close of the season, and the former England manager should be applauded for the transformational job he’s done at SE25.
The Eagles might have looked like they were faltering at the start of the season with no chance of rising, but now Palace have turned a corner under Hodgson and the thought of relegation is dissipating with every game played under the former England boss.