Roy Hodgson has brought stability to a Palace side that looked listless and incapable after the opening seven games of the season. Here's Naveed Khan with a look at what has changed.
In all the agitation surrounding Frank De Boer’s early sacking as Palace manager, the club quietly appointed Roy Hodgson as manager without any such furore. A quiet interview on the club’s website and he went straight to work.
There was a job to be done. The club had spent five weeks finding De Boer as Sam Allardyce’s successor. While the Dutchman tried to revolutionise the team’s style, Roy went straight into trying to get the best out of the tools he had.
His first three games followed the pattern left by De Boer – losses to nil. But he had mitigation; Southampton came and went days after his arrival and then the next two were away defeats to the Manchester clubs. Since then, he has amassed 22 points from 15 games. The sort of form which would see a team comfortably into the top 10.
Were Palace offered the chance to be closer to ninth than bottom at the start of 2018 after no goals or points from seven matches, it would have been snapped up without hesitation. The job is by no means complete; there are 16 games to go in a tight division with teams all looking to strengthen in January.
But Hodgson has given Palace more than a fighting chance; but for missed penalties and misfortune the task would be closer to completion. He’s done this without signing a single player thus far – he has done it through truly maximising what has.
As he did at WBA and Fulham, Roy picks players for the specific opposition faced. The goalkeepers are an example of this – in a game where Palace are expected to play throughout the team, Julian Speroni is picked. Against high press teams where the ball needs to travel more directly, Wayne Hennessey gets the gloves.
The lines and distances between the defence and midfield are consistent – smaller gaps without the ball and wider when we are looking to create; common sense perhaps but the organisation means the team is moving together. This, in turn, is allowing Wilfried Zaha greater space in which to operate – either close to Christian Benteke or wide. The more Wilf is learning this role, the greater his impact.
Players who had suffered dips in form, in some cases prolonged, seem to be rejuvenated under Roy. Hennessey has grown in assurance and is making less errors. Speroni is not playing like a 38-year-old written off by Pardew. Joel Ward is enjoying his best form since promotion and whatever is asked of him, James McArthur is contributing. Established players like James Tomkins, Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojević are growing further in stature.
While the manager himself has echoed the sentiments of supporters in regards to squad depth, Hodgson is the first manager since promotion to successfully utilise squad players. Martin Kelly has come in and played like a regular and not looked out of place. Timothy Fosu-Mensah seems ready to play a part whenever called upon and Jairo Riedewald showed his reliability when called upon against Manchester City. The biggest transformation has been in Bakery Sako. Written off by many fans, yours truly included, he has revamped himself into an impactful substitute be it on the wings or up front.
Palace are second only to Everton in terms of winning points from losing positions – Roy’s tactical adjustments and in-game management has been a big part of that. He has not been afraid to move players between positions, change formation, pass it shorter or go more direct. If there has been a need to change, he has made that change.
It has been no mean feat to get Palace from where they were after seven games to going into the January transfer window in 14th place. However, we are entering a critical juncture and Roy deserves significant backing in the transfer market to see us safe this season and to ensure some longer terms plans can be put in place for the summer and beyond.
As well as needing more competition in goal and up front, there is a need for a defender and midfielder to compensate for the losses of Scott Dann and Jason Puncheon. With no return dates set yet for Mamadou Sakho and Conor Wickham, the squad needs bolstering to allow Hodgson to finish the job he has started.
If he does keep us up, it will mean mainstream media (and Liverpool fans) have no excuse to move on from England’s loss to Iceland. His redemption, if he needed any, would be complete.