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Palace’s long break will have given Viera time to reflect

By the time Crystal Palace take to the field against Chelsea this weekend, a month will have passed since their last game. Their scheduled meeting with Manchester United on September 11 was called off following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, while a train strike put paid to the game against Brighton & Hove Albion six days later. The strike was ultimately called off, but the match remained postponed.

Patrick Vieira will have welcomed the extra time to work with his players, including those who were not with their countries over the international break. Palace had a disrupted pre-season. The squad was essentially split in two, with Vieira taking a group to Thailand and Australia, and assistant manager Osian Roberts staying behind in London with those players who were not able to travel due to their Covid-19 vaccination status.

It was less than ideal preparation for the new campaign. Palace duly started slowly against Arsenal on the opening weekend. A disappointing first-half performance allowed Mikel Arteta’s men to take control of the game, and although Palace improved after the break they were unable to mount a fightback.

There were plenty of positives to take from the 1-1 draw with Liverpool and 3-1 victory over Aston Villa that followed, but that success against Steven Gerrard’s side remains Palace’s only win of 2022/23. They subsequently lost 4-2 to Manchester City after storming into a 2-0 lead at the Etihad Stadium, before drawing back-to-back matches against Brentford and Newcastle United.

Vieira has switched between a three-man and four-man backline so far this season. There were hints that this was his plan last term, notably when Palace sprung a surprise by fielding three at the back in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea. Vieira wants his team to be flexible, able to change shape both within and between matches. But the fostering of that adaptability needs to be done on the training pitch, and the disrupted pre-season made that difficult.

Cheick Doucoure is the only new signing that has started regularly in the early weeks of 2022/23. Yet the departure of Conor Gallagher has forced a fundamental change of emphasis. The ex-Chelsea loanee was Palace’s Player of the Year last term. He was the man who led the press and set the tempo of the team’s play. He has been replaced in the side by Ebere Eze, who has had a promising start to the season but offers different qualities in that role. Palace have had to adapt to the change.

One of Vieira’s main concerns is likely to be up front. He has rotated between Jean-Philippe Mateta and Odsonne Edouard up to now. Mateta is more of a physical presence who can run in behind, while Edouard has better link-up play outside the box. But neither is prolific. Vieira, you feel, would have settled on one of them had either striker made himself undroppable by scoring regularly.

Palace have not been quite as solid this term as they were last, although the fact they have already faced Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City must be taken into account. Only Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest are giving up more expected goals per game, and the Eagles still look vulnerable from set pieces – their Achilles heel last time out.

Vieira has had plenty to think about over the month-long break, then. He will hope that his charges come back refreshed and raring to go against Chelsea on Saturday.

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