Palace should have heeded past lessons, but instead had a repeat of the Pardew era which saw the club fall down the table, says Naveed Khan.
It's half way through the 2015/16 season and Crystal Palace sat fifth in the Premier League. Under the guidance of a manager whose attacking approach saw the club pick up among the highest number of points in the Premier League during 2015, a frugal January transfer window saw only the addition of Emmanuel Adebayor and Alan Pardew went on to win just two of the next 19 league games. It went on to become part of a horrendous 2016 in which the manager picked up only 26 points from 36 games.
Cut to January 2020, Crystal Palace sit comfortably in the top half of the Premier League, following a 2019 which saw Palace pick up the seventh highest number of points in the Premier League, based on Roy Hodgson’s structured, functional approach. The January transfer window has again been one of frustration – the loan signing of Cenk Tosun being the only addition despite the manager saying he wanted “four or five” signings.
Cup run aside, there are parallels to that season under Pardew. A manager unwilling to alter his tactical approach. A manager unwilling to drop certain players or give alternatives a fair run in the side. A board which did not build upon the early season success, instead allowing complacency to set in. The hope under Hodgson is that he will not let complacency to take hold in the way that Pardew did.
Apart from managerial ability, there are signs that Hodgson will approach it differently to Pardew. For one, the latter didn’t seem to object to the lack of transfer activity. The former, on the other hand, has been vocal throughout the window – he has spoken of the number of players he wants to sign, he detailed positions, he called out Josh Harris and Dave Blitzer for not being on the same page as Steve Parish in regards to spending money in transfers. He also said he did not want the club to sign free transfers and loans. He was given a striker on loan.
Hodgson has previously demonstrated that he has the tactical acumen to arrest a slide down the league in a way Pardew was unable to. However, to a fan base growing in frustration as to the style of football being played, it is likely to be Hodgson doubling down and not wanting to lose rather than trying to win games on the front foot, the agitation will not subside. The paucity of chances created and a reluctance to make positive changes will likely continue while the manager looks to drag the squad to the 40-point mark.
The growing concern is that the club is sleep-walking into a relegation fight, completely unprepared for what lies ahead. Having 30 points on the board in January is impressive as a standard – but much less so when the gap to the bottom three is just six points. We are not looking at a season where 36 points will keep a team safe. It could well take more – we need three wins and the moment, the way the team is playing, those three wins may be some way off.
The transfer window was idle rather than ideal; compounded with the team’s current form, it raises a lot of questions about the club which in turns creates greater worry. Is there money available for transfers? An instalment from the Aron Wan-Bissaka transfer to Manchester United was assigned to Macquarie Bank in late 2019 – was this done with the intention of spending on transfers or for a different reason?
If it was for transfers, why was activity left so late in the window when the need was apparent since August 2019? Are the players being sourced by the Sporting Director and his recruitment team of the right standard? Does the club have a transfer strategy? Is the manager aligned with these two?
The defeat to Sheffield United served to highlight deficiencies. Chris Wilder has a newly promoted side sitting in fifth place in the league. As the transfer window came to a close, they broke their transfer record to sign Sander Berge. Wilder then dropped arguably their best player this season, John Lundstram, to accommodate Berge. Their manager also changed the team’s shape at 0-0 and made proactive substitutions as the second half went on. On and off the pitch, we could see Sheffield United having things we do not have.
Ultimately, the frustration from the January Transfer Window coupled with another inept home league performance have left a lot of unanswered questions around and blame is being thrown in different directions often on basis of preconception. As ever with these things, there is blame to be apportioned with all of the key decision makers within the club. And we are now missing the one thing that often helped cut through the tension – communication from the club.
There are so many unknowns at the moment which leads to a feeling of uncertainty. It leaves a sense of feeling that something needs to change. The club cannot let complacency blossom in this environment.
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