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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Crystal Palace

Edmund Brack of the South London Press on The Eagles

12 February 2022

Crystal Palace sit 13th in the Premier League table, a point and a place above Brentford, with a game in hand. What have you made of what you have seen over the past few months?

I think the main thing that Patrick Vieira has managed to do is make them competitive. In the game against Liverpool in January, though the scoreline was 3-1, I don’t think they were ever totally out of the game. The first half was not brilliant, but in the second half you saw the electric press and the style of football he is trying to implement. It is really exciting to watch and I would say, in my lifetime, it is probably some of the best football I have seen at Palace, in terms of the style and what he is doing with the players to get the best out of them. They have drawn a lot of games, but when you look at teams like West Ham and Brighton that they have drawn and lost to, they are further down the line in their projects and what they are trying to build, while Palace are still in the fledgling stages. It has been a positive season and a positive start to Vieira’s time at Palace.

Though they drew six of their first 11 games, they only lost to Liverpool and Chelsea during that spell. Since the November international break, though, they have lost six of their 11 games. Is there anything specific that has contributed to this drop in form?

The loss of James McArthur (pictured above) was a big one for Palace to try and deal with as they had to try and get that balance right in the midfield. That meant Conor Gallagher (also above) had to drop deeper and, if you nullify his attacking threat, there is not much point of having him in the team because he is so good in that box-to-box role. McArthur is probably not rated highly among the rest of the Premier League, but he was integral in the early stages of the season. Now Will Hughes has come in, fitted seamlessly into the squad and really filled that void.

Jean-Philippe Mateta’s loan move from Mainz was made permanent in January, while Palace also brought in teenage striker Luke Plange from Derby. A move for Manchester United’s Donny van de Beek did not materialise in the end, though. What did you make of their business last month?

Mateta has shown promise in his recent games, but if you had asked me a few months ago whether I would have signed him on a permanent deal, I probably would have said no. I don’t think he has shown much, but Vieira has always talked about giving his players confidence and trying to get them to showcase their talents and, when he has been given a run of starts, he has scored goals. I guess if that is all you want from your striker then he is doing the job at the moment, but at 24, there is also plenty of time to develop. I don’t know too much about Plange, but I am glad we have been able to loan him back for the rest of the season as taking him away from Derby, given their situation, would not have sat right with me. And I would have liked van de Beek, but he was not essential and I think bringing him in may have stopped the progress of Hughes and Gallagher. The summer is more important for trying to build than January, which is more of a panic window, in my opinion.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday afternoon?

Michael Olise, for sure. He is such a good player and when he switches back onto his left foot, with the accuracy and the way he shoots, he always aims for the far left post because he knows it is always going to be inch-perfect and, nine times out of 10, will go in. He does stuff on the ball that is just so exciting to watch and the fact that Palace got him for only £8 million is a steal in the current market. If he is up for it, he is someone who can help Palace take all three points in a game.

How is Vieira likely to set up his side in west London?

It is always 4-3-3. The back five is usually the same, Covid-permitting and as AFCON will have ended by then, he will probably have Cheikhou Kouyate holding, Hughes and Gallagher, Wilfried Zaha and Olise and then Mateta up front.

The points were shared after a goalless draw at Selhurst Park in the second game of the season, but what is your score prediction this time around?

I would say the two teams are pretty even. Though Palace have the better first team 11, with more Premier League experience, Brentford are the overall better collective, with players pulling in the right direction because of how long their project has been going on for. So I will go for a 1-1 draw, but if Olise is up for it, I think Palace could nick it 2-1.


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