By J Hutcherson (Nov 2, 2021) US Soccer Players – On October 18, Crystal Palace let in a stoppage time equalizer at Arsenal. With the home fans streaming out of the Emirates Stadium, a game that seemed out of reach for Arsenal turned into an unlikely point. It was the third draw in a row for the visitors, a run that started by giving up an equally late goal at home to local rivals Brighton on September 27. Crystal Palace extended that run of draws to four, finishing 1-1 at home to Newcastle United on October 23. The following Saturday, they beat Manchester City 2-0 away.
Crystal Palace under Patrick Vieira has quickly turned into a team capable of shock results, 3-0 at home to Spurs on September 11 and what happened at City, and holding on against strong teams, draws against West Ham, Brighton, and Leicester City. They have six draws this season, more than any team in the Premier League. Where that’s gotten them is 13th-place, a spot higher than last season while looking like a much better team.
It’s easy to make with the compliments following a 3-0 win, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke about that on September 18.
“But I told the boys after the game that this was one of the most hard-fought 3-0s I ever saw,” Klopp said. “We had to give absolutely everything. So, I’m really pleased, I’m really pleased. In a season, when you are Liverpool, you win football games from time to time. When you win, usually you are really good or brilliant. Today we were not brilliant but we were good. We accepted the battle Crystal Palace was here for and that’s why I am really happy about the result, really happy about the performance.”
Where this leaves a club like Crystal Palace is quickly becoming the story of their season. Grinding out results is its own skill set at this level. The elite teams normally find a way to break that, the expensive combo of speed and technique throughout those squads. At Palace’s level, there’s some of that but not enough for a head-to-head approach.
“I think this is what we needed,” Vieira said following the win at Manchester City. “We were really pleased with the way we played in the last couple of games, but we weren’t happy with the goals we conceded. Today, we were concentrated from the start until the end. Coming to Manchester City and not conceding a goal is a really strong statement, and is really good for the team.”
Becoming the second team to beat City this season and the first to do it at the Etihad Stadium points to bigger things. The issue is how much that really changes the scope for Palace. They’re already doing enough to stay competitive, even if it doesn’t have them in the top-half of the table.
It’s also already more than simply defending their way into not losing. While there have been games where Palace has given up the bulk of the play, it’s not the norm. Instead, Crystal Palace has shown across multiple games how to switch up their tactics. Palace added Odsonne Edouard from Celtic this season to spread the offensive options. For a team that has no choice but to rely on Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke as their likeliest scoring threats, Edouard complicates things. Conor Gallagher is also making a difference out of midfield on loan from Chelsea.
Gallagher scored the second goal against City in the 88th minute, showing that attempting to mark Palace’s attackers out of the run of play only gets a team so much. It’s a more nuanced version of what was working last season manager Roy Hodgson’s last.
The Vieira version of Palace is more nuanced due to personnel, trying to push past playing keep up with the clubs around it. While there’s the feeling that the back half of the schedule will be quite familiar with that approach, the individual qualities of the players involved keep Palace in these games.
It’s easy to look at two games where wins turned into draws five minutes into stoppage time and see Palace higher up the standings. Four points would push them into at least the top eight, depending on how generous one gets with theoretical table resetting. Had that game at Arsenal stayed 1-0, Palace would’ve been ahead of them. Meanwhile, Arsenal is the club climbing the table up to 6th-place. Wins at home to Aston Villa and at Leicester City have Arsenal looking closer to a potential contender.
“When you play against a team that is going to be up there, it is great when you are able to beat them,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “It’s another game, we are on a good run and we have to continue to do so because there are still a lot of things we have to improve.”
What counts as a good run is something Crystal Palace is asking. Draws are interesting in the Premier League. Last season, two of the top four teams drew in double-digits. So did two of the relegated clubs. It’s a mixed message on the value of not losing, but it doesn’t take away from what Palace is showing. They’re not losing to teams higher up the table, even if their record doesn’t have them joining them.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from J Hutcherson:
- West Ham United, Brighton, and the potential for Premier League disruption
- Another MLS Wednesday tries to sort out this season
- The UEFA Nations League concludes with a VAR issue and a message
- Premier League ambition early in 2021-22
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