Crystal Palace had what looked like an encouraging pre-season and got up and running in the Premier League with a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Saturday. How has the first month or so been in south London?
Pre-season was really good. Against Watford, Reading and a few other teams, they played some really attractive football, which was refreshing because, when Roy Hodgson was in charge, he was criticised for sitting really deep, defending, soaking up pressure and hitting teams on the counter-attack. Patrick Vieira (above) has played with two ball-playing centre-backs in Marc Guehi and Cheikhou Kouyate, though the latter can’t operate there as well as Joachim Andersen is going to. It was always going to be a busy summer when you consider they lost 10 players who were stalwarts that kept the club up for such a long time and there was always going to be a significant transition. There have been double training sessions over the last month to get the team drilled into the way he wants to play. It has been a really alluring snapshot of what life could be like under him and, I think, in around two months you will see their real potential.
Following Roy Hodgson’s departure at the end of last season, Patrick Vieira took over as manager in July. What was the reaction to his appointment like and how has he settled in?
Initially there was surprise as it was looking as though they would appoint Nuno Espirito Santo and then Lucien Favre decided to make a last-minute U-turn right at the 11th hour, which was surprising and quite annoying as most people had done plenty of research for a nice article! When you are in a room with someone like Vieira, you are struck by what they have done, what they have won in the game and how much they love football. That has come across quite well from him; he doesn’t look out of place and it feels like a natural fit. It was always going to be a difficult summer for anyone coming in and what he has got on his side that maybe Favre doesn’t is that he knows the Premier League, the harsh natural of it and how you have to hit the ground running.
There is some really exciting young talent in the squad, including the likes of Marc Guehi, Michael Olise, Tyrick Mitchell and Conor Gallagher. Is there a feeling those types of players will play an important role this term?
Those players are going to play a massive role. The amount of faith they have shown in Mitchell - who was, of course, at Brentford a few years ago – is has been illustrated by the fact they haven’t signed a replacement left-back for Patrick van Aanholt, while Gallagher turned down Leeds because he felt he was going to get more game time under Vieira. Even in terms of academy players, there were four of them on the bench against Chelsea. There is an experienced core there, though, and players like James McArthur, Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke and Nathaniel Clyne have all played over 100 Premier League games. But the definite route they are going down is to trust in youth.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this weekend?
The obvious one is Zaha but I think, if Benteke plays, I would say him just because of the way he ended last season. He managed to reach double figures, which he hadn’t done for a few seasons before that, and if he can keep that form up, I think he could have a really good season.
How is Vieira likely to set up his side at Selhurst Park?
Against Chelsea, he switched to a 4-4-2 which completely nullified any of their attacking ability. Of course, you have to caveat that they were playing against the European champions and one of the favourites for the Premier League title, so it was always going to be a baptism of fire. I think he will go back to a 4-3-3 for this game, though, and Andersen will probably start alongside Guehi.
What’s your score prediction for the first competitive meeting between the two sides since August 1977?
My heart says Premier League experience will prove fruitful and Palace will stroll to a 2-0 win, but my head says Brentford will spring another surprise! So I’ll go for a high-scoring 2-2 draw. Brentford play very attractive football but it can leave them quite open and I think Palace could expose that, though it could equally work the opposite way.
We will be backed by a Sell Out away end at Selhurst Park this Saturday with all tickets for the game already bought.