With the top jobs in England on a plateau most managers can only dream of, where serial winners such as Pep Guardiola are pursued for years and Jose Mourinho is welcomed by one heavyweight club seven months after being sacked by another amid much acrimony, managers born in the home nations must scramble around for jobs at the best of the rest.
The adage goes that the likes of Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis are worth their weight in gold, a cast-iron guarantee of mid-table stability at best and at the very least, Premier League survival.
Only one of those is on target to fulfil that prophesy. Pulis’s West Bromwich Albion are sitting pretty in eighth. Another three wins for the Welshman and his team should be enough to ensure top-flight football returns to The Hawthorns for an eighth successive season next term.
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Allardyce’s Crystal Palace, however, have slipped into the bottom three, the Englishman’s appointment as Alan Pardew’s successor last month thus far failing to have the desired effect.
Allardyce’s appointment was hailed as a game changer. The no-nonsense, straight-talking, data-driven taskmaster was predicted by many observers to make an immediate effect on a team that had underachieved for too long under Pardew.
That reputation was forged by previous restoration jobs on Wearside, East London and Greater Manchester. Allardyce somehow kept a woeful Sunderland up last season, took West Ham United from Championship contenders to a middle-of-the-road top-tier team and Bolton Wanderers into Europe for the first time.
But analysis of Allardyce’s first five league games in charge do not back up the reputation. Palace average 0.2 points per games compared to 0.4 for Pardew in the last 10 games before he was sacked. They average fewer goals (0.4 to 1.3), too.
Compare that to his first five league games in charge of Sunderland (1.2 points per game, 1.2 goals), West Ham (in the Championship: 2 points, 2.2 goals), Blackburn Rovers (1.8 points, 2 goals), Newcastle United (1.6 points, 1.2 goals), Bolton (Division One: 2 points, 2 goals) and it’s obvious that both team and manager have regressed.
The general consensus was that while Palace were entertaining going forward under Pardew, they were too brittle at the back. While one stat in Allardyce’s favour does point to an improved rearguard (0.4 goals conceded compared to 2.4 for Pardew), it is hard to fathom why an attack containing Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend, Jamie Puncheon, Yohan Cabaye and Wilfried Zaha has been blunted so much.
Puncheon’s left foot offers one of the best deliveries of a dead ball in the division; Zaha and Townsend are a threat from either flank and Cabaye’s fluidity, crisp passing and crunching tackles in midfield are all huge assets. Benteke’s 42 league goals in three seasons at Aston Villa and nine in 29 appearances mostly from the bench for Liverpool mean Palace possess one of the league’s potent goal getters.
The assumption is that this Palace side are too good to go down, that a few tweaks in tactics further up the pitch will propel them to safety. As they prepare to face Manchester City in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday, they could do with putting that theory into practise.
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