Football news - Patrick Vieira is at the wheel, but how far can he take this Crystal Palace team?
Ahead of their trip to Anfield at the weekend Pete Sharland takes an early look at Crystal Palace under Patrick Vieira. After time out of the game, what has he shown so far and what is possible for the Eagles as they look to move onwards and upwards after the loss of Roy Hodgson over the summer to retirement.
'No fear... just excitement' - Vieira on taking Palace to Anfield
Whether it’s Patrick Vieira never losing to Tottenham Hotspur, or beating them across four separate decades, Arsenal fans had no end of fun last weekend.
But actually any fun that they, or indeed anyone else, had laughing at Tottenham’s expense only served to takeaway what was an excellent performance from Crystal Palace under their new manager. They were better than Tottenham before the red card and after it they completely shut their opponents down.
It was the coming together of everything Vieira wants from his team. He wants the perfect harmony between hard work, defensive determination and offensive freedom. It’s a hard mix to master, but that’s what Vieira wants, and you can start to see it.
Zaha celebrates giving Palace the lead
Image credit: Getty Images
The opening day defeat to Chelsea is almost an albatross. A new manager trying to balance the old with the new, against the European Champions. There was no contest. It was slow against Brentford as well, perhaps with the Bees still on a high after their win against Arsenal and again, everything falling into place gradually for Vieira’s men.
But against West Ham in a spirited 2-2 draw, and then against Tottenham, you got it. You can see what he wants his team to be. And you know the Palace fans are going to love him.
As the Athletic’s excellent Palace writer Matt Woosnam pointed out earlier in the week, the substitutions that Vieira made during the 3-0 win over Spurs were, bold to say the least. Taking off your experienced, hard-working strikers for two new signings, one of whom had barely trained with his new colleagues, was brave. But it worked, with Odsonne Edouard scoring twice as Palace sealed an emphatic win.
Vieira wants ball-players, that’s why Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi came in. He wants all-action midfielders, that’s why they signed Conor Gallagher on loan from Chelsea. Some clubs with aims of getting into the top 10 might feel that taking a player on loan from a bigger club is a counter-productive move, but Palace have leant into it. They knew what Gallagher could bring and his performances, highlighted with the brace against West Ham, have already rewarded their faith.
“Conor Gallagher loves football. He’s got a lot of energy and he would play well under any manager because of the passion he has for the game. The energy he is bringing to the team is fantastic.”
That’s what Vieira said after the win against Tottenham. But he’s wrong. Gallagher would not play well under any manager, unsurprisingly he’s being too modest. In reality not every manager would have given Gallagher the opportunity, and even if they had, not every manager would know how to best use him.
Conor Gallagher of Crystal Palace celebrates after scoring with team mate Christian Benteke during the Premier League match against West Ham United, London Stadium, August 28, 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
Vieira gives Gallagher the freedom to push up the pitch and make those late (dare we say it Lampard-esque?) runs into the box. Playing him in a three rather than a two gives him that extra freedom, which Vieira knows he can do because he has the implicit trust in Gallagher to do the dirty work as well. That relationship between player and manager is not something every manager could do, it’s a nice touch that perhaps shows some of Vieira's growth from his earlier managerial spells.
And others are paying attention.
“Proper football-playing side. He obviously has a clear idea how he wants to set it up,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp ahead of their clash on Saturday.
“You can see they’ve brought in new players and used them. I’ve always said it’s incredible how strong they are up front with all the players they have and now Edouard came in and score twice.
“Gallagher, pfft, I’m not sure we can even say he’s a talent any more. Sure he’s playing U21 but he’s such a good player.
“It’s a change [in terms of playing style] and they will do well I’m pretty sure.”
So what exactly should the aim be for Palace? The first aim should be to become a top-10 side. Since their return to the Premier League the Eagles have never placed higher than 11th. That’s not a bad thing. For a club like Palace that’s an amazing achievement to no longer be a yo-yo club. At the very least they need to get back to being that team that the big sides dread playing against.
But if Vieira’s appointment is going to work out there needs to be a push into the top-half. That’s what West Ham did and, in their own unique way, Leicester City did. Those teams are a step ahead of where Palace are but the tools are in place. Some great young players, incredible fan base and a seemingly smart recruitment approach run Dougie Freedman.
So now it comes down to Vieira. His time at New York City FC was an extremely encouraging first step, but his move to Nice ended up being more sideways than forwards. There were extenuating circumstances (ownership issues and broken promises) but he also looked a little out of his depth at times. His man-management, at the time, left a lot to be desired, and there was no real clear plan in terms of how it was all supposed to look.
It’s early days but spending half a season away from the game might have been good for Vieira. It gave him time to evaluate what went wrong at Nice and learn from it. As he told Des Kelly before the Tottenham game.
"I don't want to copy a Mourinho, Wenger or Capello... I will do it my way with who I am as a person. It's on me to put a system in place to allow the players to express their talent."
It is on him. And so far, it’s looking pretty promising.