The Eagles are soaring. Crystal Palace’s transformation under Patrick Vieira has been one of the most exciting stories from the Premier League this season.
The Frenchman’s appointment was bold, but his arrival has led to a revolution in the team’s style of play and the transformation has been a delight to watch unfold.
Vieira’s arrival created a positive atmosphere at Selhurst Park in the summer after he had spent time working for ITV as a pundit during Euro 2020. For the fans and outsiders looking in, this appointment would have looked similar to the 2017 arrival of Frank de Boer, who incredibly lasted just four games in charge.
However, after a smart summer window, with the shrewd additions of Marc Guehi, Michael Olise, Joachim Andersen and Conor Gallagher on loan, it felt like the right changes were happening on the pitch and the Eagles were gaining a much-needed influx of young talent - something that was long overdue.
At the start of the campaign, Palace were going toe-to-toe with most of their opponents but were constantly left frustrated with draws in games where they had plenty of chances and were punished for not taking them.
Despite those draws, they sit ninth in the top-flight and it comes as no surprise that they have significantly improved on their two previous 14th finishes under Roy Hodgson. Their style of play then, which was in essence route one football, is now a distant memory and it's hard to grasp that an entire season hasn’t gone by under his successor because they are playing like a team who have had this newfound identity for a number of years.
There is just so much to like about this particular Eagles team and the shrewd young additions have been a breath of fresh air for the supporters after last year they had the squad with the oldest average age in the division, which was 29.2. From their key business made in the summer, they brought in six recruits and the average age of those additions was 22.5. It's a stark contrast to what the Selhurst Park faithful were used to and something that they could get excited about because it gave them an idea of the project that the club are looking to build with Vieira.
Their swift evolution has been widely praised and when they outclassed Arsenal on Monday night, storming to a 3-0 victory, they looked like the team pushing for a place in the Champions League, and not the other way around. They were first to every ball, they moved the ball nicely around the pitch with some clinical passing and they looked dangerous every time they pushed forward, while keeping the Gunners at bay.
It is a testament to the work Vieira and Steve Parish have done to assemble a squad with most of its key components in place for the future in just one transfer window - in today’s market it should be impossible, especially when 22 players were released at the end of 2020-21. Not for Palace, they’ve made it look easy. They bought sensibly, bringing in hungry players with potential and future resale value, a model that has been alien to them for several years and they seem to have hit the nail on the head at the first attempt.
They have a league clash against Leicester City this afternoon to act as the warm-up before their biggest game of the season at Wembley next Sunday, the FA Cup semi-final clash against Chelsea, and biggest game since they reached the FA Cup final in 2016.
The supporters are excited for this monumental match against their rivals from the west side of London and it feels like this is just the beginning of something special that is blossoming on the south side of the River Thames.
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