New Year’s Premier League winners and losers
10 months ago, 3 Jan 15:20
Winners Roy Hodgson It was easy to understand why some Crystal Palace supporters were a little uneasy about the appointment of Hodgson. Recency bias is forever strong in football, and the lasting legacies of Hodgson were the defeat to Iceland and that gif where he smiles before his head drops, like an old teddy bear that needs to be propped up. Yet the concerns over his Liverpool tenure, as disastrous as it was, hardly seemed relevant. To worry about Hodgson’s inability to succeed at Anfield means that you had to also admire the body of work at West Brom and Fulham, as well as his success abroad. Taking Fulham to the Europa League final is arguably the standout achievement of any English manager this century. Add in the necessary simplification after the over-complication of Frank de Boer, a group of players that needed a steadying hand and an arm around the shoulder and the fact that Hodgson was a local boy, and this was a pretty perfect fit. There were still plenty of people, including in the media, who poured scorn on the appointment before Hodgson had even managed a game. Still, nobody saw this coming. Palace have gone from drowning in their own incompetence to bobbing along on the surface. A total of 22 points from 18 league matches might not seem imposing, but Hodgson lost his first three without scoring and was forced to address a communal morale that had reached rock bottom. All of a sudden, Palace’s players and supporters believe again. They have lost one of their last 11 league games. The redemption of Hodgson and Palace has been built on resilience. Exactly half of their points earned this season have been achieved after conceding the first goal of the game, their total of 11 beaten only by Everton. That is evidence of Hodgson’s belief that panic is the worst possible reaction to setback. Given his own performance with England in that regard, perhaps this old dog has also learned new tricks at Selhurst Park. He is the wise old owl of Croydon. Yet Hodgson’s tactical impact should also not be overlooked. He is not a manager renowned for bravery, but on New Year’s Eve Hodgson devised a courageous tactic against Manchester City that caused Pep Guardiola’s team more problems than any other English club in the last three months. Palace soaked up pressure, but then looked for the long diagonal ball to Wilfried Zaha and tried to exploit the space in behind a Manchester City defence that played with a high line. It could easily have ended in victory. These things matter. Not only is Hodgson well on the way to engineering an unlikely escape from relegation, but Zaha has now stated that he wishes to stay at the club. Was that really a likely eventuality while Palace were still stuck at the bottom of the table? Hodgson’s arrival has given Zaha, Bakary Sako, James Tomkins and Luka Milivojević new leases of life, and there ...
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