While a second-half revival put a thin gloss on the first-half performance, the 4-2 defeat to Liverpool leaves a lot to be concerned about. Here are five things Naveed Khan learned.
Slow starts at Selhurst continue to be costly
From the early games against West Brom and Bournemouth to the last two home games, Alan Pardew has bemoaned his team’s slow start to a game with those matches yielding a solitary point. With five home games gone, these slow starts have already proven costly and with a run of home matches to come against Manchester City, Southampton, Manchester United and Chelsea, the team cannot afford to keep inviting pressure before trying to grow into games. Liverpool took the early initiative with their pressing and passing triangles and did not surrender the psychological foothold they gained. Ultimately, the home form needs to improve from a 1:4 win record that Pardew has with Palace if the club wants to spend the season aspiring and not looking back.
Importance of defensive platform has been underestimated
The desire to move to a more attacking team style is admirable, but Saturday was yet further evidence that this cannot manifest itself in a fully effective system until the defensive basics are on point. Palace’s back four displayed a lack of organisation, being pulled apart by simple movement and even exposed at set-pieces, hitherto perceived a strength. Contrary to this perception, set-pieces have become a weakness for Palace this season, with eight goals conceded – evidence that the importance of having a solid platform from which to play more expansive football has been underplayed.
Townsend is a conundrum which needs solving
Andros Townsend was dropped, with justification, and came on with little impact against Liverpool with Pardew saying afterwards it was because he wants to play on the right wing. By spending £13 million on a full England international who, although left footed has never made a secret of his preference of playing on the right, Pardew has given himself a problem he needs to solve. Palace’s success has always emanated from creative wingers; if Pardew is to build the legacy he so craves, he needs to find a way of Townsend fitting into a team in which Zaha is so critical on the right hand side.
McArthur and Cabaye can work; with a mobile shield
James McArthur has arguably been Palace’s player of the season thus far and Yohan Cabaye is evidently getting back up to speed and the pair who were so critical to Palace’s excellent form at the start of last season will be just as important this season. While in possession, their impact is tangible, it is without the ball where weaknesses to the set up in the midfield are exposed. Against pressing sides who move the ball quickly, they need a mobile shield to work with them. Joe Ledley, for all his attributes, does not provide that mobility with his shortcomings obvious against Liverpool and it is not clear what role Pardew has in mind for Flamini. Pardew needs to set the team up to get the best out of the better players rather than a template set-up regardless of the opposition.
Bench provides no answers
Not for the first time, but maybe for the most apparent time, the bench Alan Pardew had to turn to try and change the course of the match provided him with no solutions. Sunderland aside, the manager’s changes have had little impact and that was again the case against Liverpool. Jason Puncheon (off the pace after injury), Townsend (out of form) and Fraizer Campbell (out of his depth) were the cards used and each struggled to influence proceedings. While the club rightly addressed key starting positions in the summer, quality back-ups have not been added in any window since promotion; Saturday showed January cannot be a bargain hunt.