Patrick Vieira has the Eagles flying but how high can he take them?

In August 2021, new Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira was among the strong favourites to be the first manager sacked in the upcoming Premier League campaign.

Fast forward to April 2022, and his entertaining Palace side are sitting comfortable in mid-table, with Eagles fans thoroughly enjoying watching their team week in, week out. The club were also recently knocked out of the FA Cup semi-final at the hands of Chelsea.

All was rowdy on that day at Wembley, while all is harmonious at Selhurst Park. The manager just needs to turn the draws into wins, and fans will truly believe that anything is possible. The club have 13 league draws this season, the joint-most in the entire league. It’s level with Brighton, as well as struggling Burnley.

Crystal Palace

Busy summer for Crystal Palace

The pre-season worries at Selhurst Park were totally understandable, given just how many players were leaving the club due to the expiration of their contracts. It was an ageing team, with experienced players Patrick van Aanholt, Andros Townsend, Mamadou Sakho, James McCarthy, Gary Cahill, Scott Dann and Wayne Hennessey all departing.

But with every cloud comes a silver lining, and this meant the boss could fill his squad with new, exciting youngsters. And while none of those exits brought in money, it certainly freed up the club’s wage bill.

The ex-Arsenal man was certainly keen to make an early impression. He was eager to improve on Roy Hodgson’s system in more ways than one. The Eagles finished 14th under the veteran manager in 2020/21, largely reliant on soaking up pressure before catching teams on the break.

Palace have largely utilised a 4-3-3 formation this season, along with a 4-2-3-1, dependent on personnel available and indeed how the opposition will be approaching the game.

Palace’s tactical approach under Vieira

Importantly, Vieira hasn’t swayed too far away from the tight backline that Hodgson relied on. But a major difference is the lack of reliance on Wilfried Zaha. The Palace of old relied far too heavily on their pacey winger.

Now, while Conor Gallagher may be the star of the show, it’s a team display, with everyone chipping in and doing their part. The new boss has also encouraged much more possession, as well as clear principles of play going forward.

As revealed by Jeff Schlupp earlier this season, the boss has placed a huge focus on structure and shape. Playing out from the back is a key feature of Palace’s play, before spreading teams open by playing confident, attacking football.

Fortunately, the players are in place to achieve this. Centre-backs Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen are ball-playing defenders, but are also quick and strong, meaning they are more than capable of matching opposition strikers when they are bearing down on goal.

Much success comes from forcing teams to play out wide, by being compact in midfield and not allowing opposition teams to play through the middle. This was achieved to perfection against Man City in both league meetings this season.

Such pressing is certainly a new feature of Palace’s play, and that is very much helped by the non-stop running of Gallagher. The team press together, led by the energy and enthusiasm of the young Chelsea loanee.

The 4-2-3-1 defensive system now in place is well-coordinated, and while it’s certainly not as intense as the press of Liverpool or Leeds, it is still very effective. Led by the centre-forward – be it Christian Benteke, Odsonne Edouard or Jean-Philippe Mateta – it starts right up at the top of the pitch. Blocking the nearest passing options is always the strategy used.

Crystal Palace

The statistics behind the success

Only six goalkeepers have more clean sheets than Vicente Guaita, with the goalkeeper proving crucial at times this season with several top-class stops. He has been helped, of course, by central defensive duo Guehi and Andersen, both signed by Vieira in the summer.

More importantly, however, is the pair’s passing out from the back. Among all the Man City and Liverpool players, Guehi stands tall. He has made 1,915 passes this season, placing him within the top ten for overall passes, closely followed by Andersen in 13th with 1,799 passes. Guehi also finds himself in the top ten for touches, with 2,228.

They’ve largely left the tackling down to the full-backs, and primarily young left-back Tyrick Mitchell. He not only has the most appearances for Palace in the current campaign (31), but is second in the leaderboard for tackles with 94, behind only Brentford’s Christian Norgaard (102).

Gallagher meanwhile is in the top 20, bursting forward to score goals but also helping his team win back possession, making 63 tackles so far.

Only seven clubs have conceded fewer goals than Palace, with the Eagles boasting a better defensive record than Man Utd, West Ham and Leicester, all of whom are in the top half.

One major area for improvement undoubtedly lies in the final third. Palace are in the top ten for goals scored, but could certainly be finding the net more often with the talented players in the squad, like Zaha, Michael Olise, and Edouard.

It doesn’t all boil down to shots taken, but this is something Vieira has to improve. Zaha finds himself leading the way for Palace with 51 shots, but 28 players across the league have taken more than him, including defenders like Joao Cancelo.

Gallagher follows with 42, and it’s then Benteke (39), Edouard (36), and Jordan Ayew (31) who come close. Such attackers must be taking more shots on goal if the Eagles are to be more successful going forward.

Crystal Palace

What does the future hold for Crystal Palace?

As mentioned, the London outfit finished 14th in Hodgson’s last season. They ended up with 44 points, with Palace currently just seven behind that total on 37. Every new manager of course needs time to find his feet at a new club, but Vieira may be disappointed if he doesn’t achieve this.

With six games left, it’s very doable… on paper that is. Palace have more than held their own against the big guns, recently drawing with Man City and easing past Arsenal 3-0. But those huge displays came after disappointing draws against Norwich, Brentford and Burnley.

It hasn’t always been the case, but the Eagles have often shone against those in the top half, but have faltered against the clubs in the bottom half of the table.

Vieira certainly won’t be complaining at the remaining fixtures, but with the likes of Leeds, Southampton, Watford and Everton all still to come, it will be interesting to see how his side manages against such lower league opposition.
As mentioned, turning draws into wins will be one major priority for Palace. It will come down to tactics, but also personnel, with the manager certain to delve into the transfer market once again this summer.

Next season will be the club’s ninth successive campaign in England’s top flight. They’ve finished in the top 10 just once in that time, back in 2014/15. Could Vieira be the man to bring the Eagles back into the top half of the Premier League?