Why the Pardew revolution is stagnating at Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew is an ideological leader. He sets out his philosophy for fun, fine, and attacking football and hammers it into the squad, seemingly not afraid to sacrifice even the most stalwart players. At times it works and at times he seems doggedly obstinate.
Pardew’s struggles this season have been down to Palace’s hapless U13-esque defending. At times, Palace’s zonal-marking looks like an inappropriately timed mannequin challenge mingled with casual meandering. Going forward the Eagle’s are a menace; Zaha is playing out of his skin to compensate for just about everything that involves defending and Benteke is proving his money’s worth. Ironically (or maybe not) Crystal Palace have scored three more than 5th placed Tottenham. At the back, nothing is going Palace’s way. In fairer times, top sides faced Palace, expecting a tough time breaking down the Eagles’ backline, now Swansea can put five past Hennessey and Hull, three, go figure.
2015 under Alan Pardew was arguably the best Palace have ever played. The Eagles sat in the upper echelons of the form guide for the latter half of the 2014/2015 season and continued their form into the first half of 2015/2016. Big teams feared the Eagles; playing them entailed committing men forward and running the risk of being hit by vicious counter attacks led by Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha. Fans, players, and pundits embraced the Eagles pluckiness, grit, and flair, yet Pardew was unsatisfied and last season began to gradually transform the Crystal Palace that established itself into Premier League regulars into his fantasised hybrid team of namely talents and younger talent to replace Palace’s old guard, such as Julian Speroni and Mile Jedinak.
Pardew has what he wants in terms of attacking flair, but no solidity.
Pardew’s vision for the Eagles has caused much of his demise. He’s disposed and marginalised former key players ever so quickly and prematurely and formed his dreamed squad. What he forgot was the squad-building element. In the span of the summer of 2015 and the summer of 2016, Pardew has let go of club icons such as captain Mile Jedinak, Glenn Murray, Dwight Gayle, and Yannick Bolasie. Staple Palace players themselves but not fitting to Pardew’s vision or seen more valuable in their monetary worth than their footballing impact.
Those that haven’t been shown the door have been marginalised or reduced in their role despite their own positive showings and that of others. Despite a stellar season upon Pardew’s arrival at SE25, Julian Speroni was replaced by a shaky Wayne Hennessey last season and continues to be favoured. Hennessey has rarely proven though that he can transform a match and pull a result out of the hat with miraculous saves, unlike Palace’s veteran Argentine who’s heroics over the seasons have been integral to Palace’s prior success.
In Hennessey’s run of matches Palace have not done well and neither has he. He asserts little control over his defense and cannot instil confidence on his players in set-pieces. He lacks a commanding presence and has been at fault for many goals with indecision and poor saves.
In the goalkeeping department, Pardew might have to swallow his pride for a bit and give Speroni a run of matches. In many ways he is the perfect antidote for Palaces defensive issues and might be a better short-term solution than Steve Mandanda. His experience and role at the club will reassure players and fans alike, he commands his penalty area better than his teammates have shown thus far and he provides the mental toughness required in the tough times.
Another mistake was the sale of Mile Jedinak, Palace’s captain who wasn’t showing signs of slowing down. His work rate and ability to win the ball and cover for less defensively-apt players like Cabaye gave Palace’s flair players freedom to play and the defenders a stronger layer of protection. Jedinak’s duties have been delegated to James MacArthur, who as fine a player as he is, does not command the middle of the park with the same physical intensity of Jedinak. MacArthur is more akin to Cabaye for his ability to move the ball. Pardew’s abrupt changes have made Palace unstable. The experience and maturity of players like Jedinak haven’t been passed down adequately to Palace’s new marquee players.
There is no glamor associated with a team that seems defensively-solid on paper. Big name defensive signings don’t get pundits and fans salivating like Pardew likes. Pardew has done a lot for Palace. He’s built the expectations of supporters. Palace is not yet in crisis mode and though they seem to tease the possibility they turn things up in time usually. Pulis and Warnock’s Palace were relegation dogfighters. Pulis’s rugged blockade and bomb football was no long-term solution and Warnock undid much of Pulis’ successes.
The ability to score goals has tempted Palace fans into a world of hope. Alan Pardew can be proud that he has got South London dreaming again like it never really has before. The caliber of players and attacking potency make Selhurst’s faithful crave top-half finishes, dare we say European football. But for now, the Eagles are going up and down between comfort and slight unease in the table. When the pinch of the relegation battle seems to squeeze an uptick in form presents itself. Pardew has to dedicated January to defending. Only then can he do his attack any justice.
Pardew should not abandon the pluckiness just yet. For a new side with little experience as a unit and a desire to play attacking but risky football, the Eagles boss has been loose with experience and mental solidity in his squad. He must find a way to reincorporate Palace’s old image into his new one if he is to succeed.
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