Crystal Palace were beaten again on Sunday, losing 1-0 at Burnley. But this defeat was different – and after a change of formation, under pressure manager Frank de Boer now has hopes of a revival, writes Peter Smith…
Something had to change. Frank de Boer arrived at Crystal Palace this summer with ambitious aims of overhauling their style of play but after three defeats without scoring – including losses at home to Huddersfield and Swansea – alarm bells were ringing.
Never mind the grand plans and pretty passing football. Palace needed results and fast. Pressure was already mounting on the Dutchman – and he knows all too well the lack of patience given to football managers these days, having seen his Inter Milan tenure brought to an end after just 85 days last year.
So, for the trip to Burnley, De Boer abandoned his three-at-the-back philosophy in favour of a 4-3-3 set-up more familiar to his Palace players. Here, we take a look at how it played out…
There were three changes for the visitors to the side which lost at home to Swansea before the international break. Yohan Cabaye, Lee Chung-yong and Jeffrey Schlupp were handed starts, while Luka Milivojevic, James Tomkins and Patrick van Aanholt dropped out.
“Hopefully it will help,” De Boer told Sky Sports before kick-off. “There’s no certainty it will suddenly change but what I saw over the last two weeks, we trained very well and everybody has been well with this system right now, so everyone has good belief we can get a good result.”
What went right?
Palace were not exactly transformed into a destructive, dynamic force by this formation swap – but they created so many chances, they really should have taken three points from this game.
They had more touches in the box, more shots and created twice as many clear-cut openings as they had in any fixture this season.
According to Opta’s Expected Goals metric – which reflects the quality of the chances created – this was the best performance from Palace at both ends of the pitch so far in the De Boer era.
Palace improve in attack Opponent Shots Big chances Total chances Touches in opp. box Huddersfield 14 2 8 23 Liverpool 4 2 4 9 Swansea 16 0 23 20 Burnley 23 4 14 30
What went wrong?
Individual errors. Just 170 seconds into the game, Lee’s woeful back-pass allowed Chris Wood to put Burnley 1-0 up. With a similar amount of time remaining at the end of the game, Scott Dann, who had earlier seen goal-bound shots cleared off the line and blocked, missed from three yards. It was a free header. The goal was at his mercy. But he skewed it wide.
Throw in a wasted one-on-one chance for Christian Benteke and miscued headers by the Belgian and James McArthur and the story of this game becomes clear. Forget the formations and playing styles. Palace were let down by a failure to finish. No wonder they are the only team in England yet to score.
In fact, they’re the first side in Premier League history to lose their first four without finding the net. But De Boer can’t shoulder all the blame for that statistic.
De Boer’s frustration with the outcome of the game was clear in his post-match interview with Sky Sports. He described the fact they had failed to score as “unbelievable”. But, in his side’s performance at Turf Moor – apart from the error from Lee and the wastefulness in the box – he clearly saw reasons to be optimistic.
And there was a hint from the Dutchman he will be keen to continue with a blend of his passing preference and a more direct approach which perhaps better suits Palace’s current squad.
“There was only one team deserving to win today and that was us,” he said. “But that’s football and sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. But we can also blame ourselves. We gave a goal away and not scoring our 100 per cent opportunities.
“We played how we can play. Sometimes with long balls, sometimes along the ground and we created our chances, almost didn’t give anything away and controlled the game. And then you have to reward yourself.
“But if you play like this every week you get what you deserve. Football is about making goals and we have to do that much better.”
Will he be the one to implement that plan over the months to come? While the pressure is still on, former Palace boss Alan Pardew reckons the spirit and application of the team on Sunday will encourage the club’s owners to stick with De Boer a while longer yet.
“You’re looking at the manager and saying he’s under pressure – but his team tried everything in the second half and they couldn’t have done much more with what they had on the pitch,” he said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t good enough today.”