It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what he has done to improve fortunes at Selhurst Park… make the defence as tight as can be
IT doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what Sam Allardyce has done to improve fortunes at Crystal Palace.
Before Allardyce they had conceded 32 goals in 17 games . . . under Allardyce it is 18 in 14.
Keep up to date with ALL the football news, gossip, transfers and goals on our page plus fixtures, results and live match commentary.
Before Allardyce they scored 28 goals in 17 games . . . under Allardyce, 14 in 14.
The result of this switch in emphasis from attack to defence has been 19 points compared to 15 in three fewer games.
And by the look of it, Premier League survival.
Palace have kept a clean sheet in four of the last six matches. Before that it was two shut-outs in the previous 25.
And it all boils down to Allardyce accepting that Palace must play to their strengths — which is NOT fighting for possession high up the pitch or playing fancy football in their own half.
Instead, it is getting in a solid defensive shape and breaking by hitting the ball long and getting players up the pitch to support Christian Benteke.
It may not be pretty, but it’s working.
Look at Pitch Map A, showing their game at home to Sunderland when they lost 4-0. Only three players are in their own half.
Now look at Pitch Map B — Monday night’s 3-0 win over Arsenal. The shape is superb. And they have six players in their own half.
That doesn’t mean they don’t get forward. It means they have a shape, win the ball, play long to Christian Benteke, then Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend use their pace to get up quickly to support.
They also have Yohan Cabaye joining in and using his vision to play passes in the final third.
It is not just hoof-it football. It is clever football, playing to their strengths by getting it away from their goal and trying the fancy stuff in the opponent’s half where they can be dangerous.
They have won five out of their last six now that Sam has got his message across.
This season, their highest possession was 65 per cent against Sunderland. They lost 4-0.
The second highest was 62 per cent — and they lost at home to West Brom in the opening game of the season.
Third was 61 when they lost at Burnley. Joint-fourth was against Leicester and West Ham — they lost both.
It screams out that they were losing the ball, being open to the counter and being picked off.
Now they are happy to concede possession in order to maintain shape. In their five recent wins they had less possession than the opposition.
Against Arsenal it was 27 per cent, away to Chelsea it was the same. Watford 43, West Brom 48, Boro 45. And Palace won all four.
Under Alan Pardew they were trying to add goals – and they did with four against Stoke and four against Swansea. But they were shipping too many.
Last season they finished 15th but only three teams scored fewer goals.
Pardew clearly tried to alter that but they went from one extreme to the other.
Of course, Allardyce has brought in centre-half Mamadou Sakho from Liverpool and Luka Milivojevic from Olympiakos as a holding midfielder.
And no doubt their qualities have helped the side in much the same way that Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff helped save Sunderland last season.
People criticise Allardyce for playing long-ball football. But it is long-ball football with a purpose – it is a style of play. He gets unfair stick.
You are unlikely to escape trouble by playing the beautiful game. Ugly — or efficient, depending on what you want to call it — football is the name of the game at the bottom.
Sam recognised that at Palace and acted accordingly.
People will say Sam’s style of football can only take you so far. Well, yes. It took Leicester as far as the title last season!