The House that Pardew Built
Long before Leicester became the radical counter attacking machine that took the Premier League by storm, Crystal Palace were already setting the blueprint on how to achieve similar things. When Alan Pardew was hired by in the middle of last season, it was obvious what his intentions were; to create a mini counter attacking death machine. And it worked. Crystal Palace accumulated the 6th most points from Pardew's hiring until the end of season with 31, only two points back of Manchester City who accumulated the 2nd most during that same span.
There was some form of evidence that Alan Pardew legitimately improved Crystal Palace in that half season in charge and molded them into his utopian ideal of a counter attacking PL side. They earned big victories over Manchester City and Liverpool spoiling Steven Gerrard's final Anfield match, and at times were a hell of a lot of fun to watch. A top 10 finish and that influx of PL money meant that Crystal Palace could be ambitious in the transfer window, which meant that Pardew plucked Yohan Cabaye from PSG's bench and make him a center piece of their attack this season.
Now there were some warning signs coming into this season when it came to Pardew's half season cameo. As James Grayson pointed out, while Pardew did raise Crystal Palace's shot metrics to near league average numbers through his preference for high octane football, he also benefitted from Crystal Palace scoring at a ridiculous rate while having a save% that was more or less average compared to the horrors previously.
This season for Crystal Palace has been... weird to say the least. There was a considerable amount of excitement for Palace as a pseudo Europa League candidate because of the Pardiola football previously and it hasn't quite turned out as great as some hoped. Crystal Palace are mid table right now despite some wacky shot numbers. They rank in the bottom 5 in total shot ratio, yet rank mid of the road in shots on target ratio. Only Tottenham have a bigger positive difference between TSR and SoTR.
(up to 22nd January, using Opta data)
It gets even weirder when adding shot quality to it. When accounting for all shots, Crystal Palace are objectively bad. When only accounting for the shots that hit the target, Palace are again quite okay, ranking in the top 8 in SoT expected goal difference. This has been a running theme for Pardew since becoming Crystal Palace's manager. His teams have somehow been able to stay afloat in the SoT differentials despite being outshot heavily.
When at Newcastle, the opposite was going on for Pardew. They basically couldn't buy any variance in terms of shots hitting the target. Seeing the massive discrepancy with his teams is probably some sort of sign that this is what you get with Pardew as your manager, that his system somehow manages to create a lopsided relationship between overall shots and shots that hit the target. I have high suspicions that Palace can't keep up what they’re doing right now for much longer but that remains to be seen.
It’s easy to make some comparisons between Palace and Leicester. They’re both primarily based on executing off of opposition mistakes and banking on variance being on their side in these situations, which is shown as both are tied for last in shots coming from established possessions. They’re both shaky shot differential teams that at different points got very helpful assistance from PDO swings, and they’re at their best when the game is either tied or in a winning state.
But to Leicester’s credit, at least their shot numbers are in the 50-52% range and they somehow unearthed possibly the best forward duo in the PL. Crystal Palace on the other hand hasn’t found something close to Vardy/Mahrez and that’s probably the most interesting thing with this club going forward. They’re still stocked with a number of fun albeit at times inefficient attacking midfielders who are mostly in their prime years. Bakary Sako, Yannick Bolasie, Wilfred Zaha, Jason Puncheon. Add in Yohan Cabaye and his passing abilities and there’s a base there for a really lethal counter attack that could maybe punch above their weight and contend for something grand.
And then you look at their forward core and it’s so uninspiring. Connor Wickham to this point has been a bad striker who garnered way too much hype because of his mini goal-scoring streak that kept Sunderland up in 2014. Dwight Gayle hasn’t amounted to anything other than being the guy who finished off Liverpool’s title run, and Marouane Chamakh and his hairline is somehow on the squad. For a club blessed with exciting counter-attacking demons, complimenting them with the strikers they have is kind of depressing.
With the news that Marseille inked Michy Batshuayi to a contract extension, a January transfer is all but gone. However in my piece about Michy in October, I wrote about how Crystal Palace could be the perfect fit for Batshuayi stylistically with the talent surrounding him. If Crystal Palace called Marseille during the summer, I could see Palace’s pitch resembling this
Pardew: “Hello Michy, this is Alan Pardew; the greatest manager in the history of English football. Hell, what am I saying? I’m the greatest manager in the history of football. Anyways, we’re building something interesting here. A fun counter attacking system that pounces on the first mistake made by opponents. You see how Leicester are in pole position to qualify for the Champions League? Leicester! I’m pretty sure you barely heard of them until this season. We’re trying to create some of that same magic. We think you’re our missing piece to the puzzle that we’re trying to solve”
Michy: “I’m sorry, you want me to play for Crystal Palace? I’m playing for one of the most famous clubs in France!”
Pardew: “Yes. Look we get it. We’re not a glamour club. We don’t have a new stadium coming like Tottenahm nor are we Arsenal orChelsea. I understand your apprehension but just hear me out. First off we have a lot of cash, certainly much more than your current club has. You see how we plucked Cabaye from PSG? We can make you a very rich man. We also play in London so it’s not like I’m making you live out in Siberia. And here’s the big kicker, we’re making you our lead man here. Tottenham can’t do that; Arsenal and Chelsea probably won’t take that chance with you. We’re making you our centerpiece for our club and we genuinely think we can make a run at the CL with you on our squad. We’ve seen your goal scoring record and we think you’ll be amazing for us in a system complimenting you. And hell, you can probably still get your dream club move in ~3 years time if you still desperately want it. ”
Michy: “Tempting, but I still have to play for Palace. You’ve seen your kits?”
Pardew: “Look we can fix that later. You’ll love it here. Selhurst Park isn’t the Stade Veledrome but the atmosphere is certainly comparable. You get to be on Sky Sports every weekend for an up and coming force and you get to be managed by me. Also, have I mentioned how much money we can offer you? What do you say?”
Michy: “Again, tempting. I’ll get back to you soon”
There’s something interesting brewing in Crystal Palace. The skeletons are there for a high tempo squad that kills it on the counter and in the PL that can take you a long way. Certainly, this current iteration isn’t that because they’re a below average side that leaks shots attempts at will and can’t make any of that up offensively. I’m also skeptical of trusting a team with Alan Pardew as their manager but he probably grades out as an average manager so this experiment could still work.
Going after a striker, preferably one in the 22-24 age bracket would be wise for them in the future and they have to find a workable fix in the midfield so they don’t concede shots easily while still being to play a playmaker like Cabaye. If they can address both of those needs, perhaps Crystal Palace could be the next PL counter attacking side that challenges for Europe.