Crystal Palace appeared to play with a heightened sense of purpose in the first half against Watford, but then reverted to type a little in the second half. All that meant that there was plenty for Sam Allardyce to learn -- here are five things that we've come up with.
1 - Allardyce’s enlightening 90 minutes
It is speculated that Sam Allardyce has prepared a dossier on the squad well in advance of his appointment and will have come in to the job knowing the squad’s strengths and weaknesses. If he had any doubts, the 90 minutes against Watford were a live demonstration of these. A strong opening half with a controlling performance by Mathieu Flamini and Yohan Cabaye, effective wing play and an organised back-line. A lackadaisical penalty by Christian Benteke in that half set the tone for the rest of the match for Palace; players tiring, organisation slipping, a set-piece once again the team’s undoing and no potentially impactful options on the bench. Going into the January window with a manager who has come with extensive experience is the ideal time to address these issues.
2 – Townsend needs to quantify his quality
Aside from the home win over Stoke, Andros Townsend has largely struggled to make a positive impression in a Palace shirt. Whether that has been to do with which wing he plays on or his relationship with Alan Pardew remains to be seen; but with Allardyce picking him to play on his favoured wing, Townsend showed more glimpses of his capability. Aside from his technically excellent assist for Cabaye, he showed greater ball retention and awareness of his teammates as well as helping Martin Kelly in a way he didn’t when both were on the left side. Two games like this in half a season is not enough though and it is now time for him to produce this quality on a more consistent basis.
3 – Scott Dann’s form increasingly a concern
While there are mitigating circumstances around Scott Dann’s erratic form this season, Palace need the central defender to find his touch and voice quickly to avoid defensive disarray leading the team into the middle of a relegation scrap. Whether it is the lack of protection from midfield, changing centre-back partners, moving full-backs or hesitant goalkeeping, it is clear Dann’s game has been affected. Under Allardyce, the focus on defensive organisation and set pieces is likely to intensify to a level which will benefit the entire back-four; hopefully providing the catalyst for Dann to rediscover the form which had many wanting him to be recognised for with an England call-up.
4 – Absent 10 cannot isolate Benteke
Allardyce has spoken about looking to find a balance within various areas of the team and that will include looking to get the best out of Cabaye and Jason Puncheon while not leaving Benteke to fend for himself. Under Alan Pardew, Cabaye and Puncheon risked becoming his Lampard-Gerrard, fitting in two players who both needed to ball to make the team tick. This season, he seemed to be moving away from that issue by not using what has become a ‘number 10’ instead having them rotate effectively in a “number 8” role. With Flamini supporting them against Watford, a combination Pardew did not try, Allardyce seemed to find that balance and get more from the players. However, this did, in turn, mean that Benteke was operating further away from teammates and there was little effective out-ball in the second half.
5 – Ward’s resurgence deserves credit
There has been much discussion this season about the full-back positions; much of it a justifiable critique of both Joel Ward and Martin Kelly. However, since the win over Southampton, Ward looks to be getting back to his watchful best, demonstrating diligence in defence and positive yet selective movement going forward. It may be no coincidence that this change has occurred since he has been deployed at left-back – the position in which he excelled under Tony Pulis to the extent that the then manager was happy to forego signing a specialist. While signing a left-back is a key priority for Allardyce, Ward regaining his confidence and rhythm at this time bodes well for the second half of the season.