Crystal Palace Sack Patrick Vieira — How We Got Here
Patrick Vieira has been sacked as Crystal Palace manager with the club currently three points above the relegation zone after suffering three consecutive 1-0 losses, having failed to win a single match since December 31. Defeat to Brighton in the A23 Derby proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, with the Frenchman receiving his marching orders after taking charge in July 2021 on a three-year contract.
Pre World Cup
Vieira’s side have been on a wretched run of form since the World Cup with just one win in their 13 games since the resumption of the Premier League. Palace weren’t exactly scoring for fun before the break but there was a certain level of ‘game management’ that allowed them to get over the line in tough games.
Three home wins across October and November against now relegation rivals Leeds, Wolves and Southampton – all by a single goal, typified much of what was good about the Viera era. Absorbing pressure with a solid shape and a cohesive team ethic and then allowing the creative players to express themselves in the final third.
The manager also had the backing of a really solid first season behind him. He guided Crystal Palace to a 12th-place finish but with what was widely acknowledged as a much better brand of football than his predecessor Roy Hodgson. An FA Cup semi-final, the emergence of Tyrick Mitchell as a potential England left back, Wilfried Zaha in the goalscoring form of his Premier League career and Conor Gallagher looking like a world-beater in midfield. How is it 12 months on, Patrick Vieira’s Palace career has come to an abrupt end?
The Slippery Slope
The general feeling amongst the Crystal Palace faithful is that Conor Gallagher was never replaced. Although Cheick Doucoure has been a good signing and shields the defence well, the industry of Jeffrey Schlupp and whoever has rotated in the third role have not been of an equal standard to the former Chelsea loanee. This theory is backed up by the stats, Palace’s pressing stats are way down from last season, as is their average possession per game. Gallagher was effectively doing the work of two players in the midfield, allowing the dangermen like Zaha to pick up the ball in far better areas of the pitch in comparison to this season.
Another issue is a criticism that has been thrown Vieira’s way previously, this Crystal Palace side seem to lack an identity. It was first said after his dismissal from Nice in 2020, where Vieira chopped and changed formation without much effect on goalscoring whilst depending on a solid back line to keep his side in games. In South London, it’s not been a case of changing shape but a constant, slightly confusing, switching of personnel.
For example, many neutrals look at Palace’s team and picture a front three of Michael Olise, Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze behind Odsonne Edouard but Vieira has hardly ever opted for this combination, instead turning to the hardworking Jordan Ayew or Jean-Philippe Mateta. These selection choices have been affected by injuries, not least to Zaha but Eze has been benched persistently in recent weeks out of choice.
Whereas this defensively organised system worked last season as the attacking players flourished from the creative freedom afforded to them by the manager in the final third, it simply hasn’t been the same in 2023. Vieira’s side have scored just four goals in their last eleven matches. In a more personal sense, the curious idea that the former tough-tackling midfielder was too “soft” with his players has come to the fore. Always one for an arm around the shoulder rather than a dressing down, Vieira had a well-publicised excellent relationship with Olise and Zaha.
But the removal of Shaun Derry from the coaching staff, supposedly due to his abrasive nature in the changing room, raised eyebrows from all those who were aware of the good work Derry had done with the first team. This all plays into the idea that Palace haven’t looked as motivated as last season.
Vincent Kompany’s was the first of many to jump to Vieira’s defence after the sacking, and the Burnley manager laid it all out perfectly in his press conference. The fixture list had been incredibly unkind to the former palace boss, his side having taken on nearly exclusively sides from the top half of the table so far in 2023. The next manager will enjoy arguably the ‘easiest’ run-in of all the relegation-threatened sides with the likes of Leeds, Southampton, Wolves and Everton all across the next month.
So there is the argument that Vieira deserved to finish out the season, having kept Palace at 12th despite the horrible fixture run. Then there is the point that the former manager was never exactly backed financially. As mentioned Gallagher was never replaced and more recently, Vieira was desperately after a right back and central midfielder in the January window to bolster his squad – like the sides around them.
Albert Sambi Lokonga and Naouirou Ahamada did come in from Arsenal and Stuttgart respectively but neither were a guaranteed improvement in quality from what the squad already has in that position, despite both having incredibly bright futures.
What happens next is going to be incredibly important for Crystal Palace. The safe option being thrown around is to return to veteran manager Roy Hodgson to steer them clear of trouble until the end of the season, before looking for a longer-term option. Hodgson previously did an impressive job at Selhurst Park but has since been out of the game bar one truly disastrous spell at Watford. Chairman Steve Parish has revealed there is no immediate replacement lined up. Ralph Hassenhuttl, Steven Gerrard, Rafa Benitez and Nuno Espirito Santo are all being linked to the vacancy.
By: Wilf MacDonnell /@WilfMacdonnell