Mauricio Helps an Old Man to His Seat
After the dismally shit performance against Watford, we travel to Selhurst Park to play a Crystal Palace side who have made it being dismally shit the norm over the past year or so. Fat Sam masterminded their survival last year and then fucked off in the summer for slightly strange reasons to be replaced by Frank de Boer who was given the task to change the way that Palace play which is basically always been long ball and chucking in loads of crosses from the wings. De Boer introduced a more possession based game which lasted for four games and four defeats and no goals and he was then sacked. Rumour has it that he told various players and the chairman that they basically weren't fucking good enough to play in a team that wanted to keep possession of the football and the writing was on the wall from that moment on. So, chairman Steve Parish who had appointed de Boer and given him his instructions, decided to appoint Croydon boy and pensioner Roy Hodgson - last seen masterminding a truly pathetic 2-1 defeat for England against Iceland in Euro 2016.
For all the talk of Hodgson having a decent managerial record, let’s not get away from the fact that he was fucking useless as an England manager taking four years to not build a discernible pattern of play, getting knocked out of the 2014 World Cup after two matches and being equally fucking abysmal at Euro 2016. To cap it all, he was fired and then sat in the in the press conference after the tournament saying I don't know why I'm here. He looked and sounded like a resident in a rest home who was sitting in a puddle of his own piss. There were 7 million reasons (per year) why the hell did he should've been there to explain himself. Anyway, off he went into the sunset and I assumed that no football club would ever be stupid enough to give him another job. Granted his record and club football is not too bad with medium-size clubs but at 70 years old, has he really still got it? If you could ask that question of Roy Hodgson, you could also ask it of John Motson who has mercifully decided to retire from commentating on football matches. This is at least 10 years too late but at least he has taken the decision and fair play to him.
I've always thought that Palace had a slightly strange squad in that they appear to have players who commanded either a huge transfer fee or would be on huge wages like Benteke and Cabaye and they offset those with players who quite frankly, would not get in any other Premier League team like Jeffrey Schlupp, Jason Puncheon and ex-Skate Joel Ward.
As for us, this week saw the return of the Virgil van Dijk to Saints colours as he played for the under 23’s is against Aston Villa, where he was crap, partially at fault for at least three of the goals that went past Alex McCarthy in our 4-0 defeat. Still, he played 90 minutes and all the indications are that he would be involved in some way at Palace this weekend.
We of course had massive issues with the front half of our team last week against Watford so it would be interesting to see what Pellegrino did this week. In my opinion, even if not in anyone else's, there was a huge question mark over Jack Stephens as well. In the event, the back end of the team looked very strong with Yoshida preferred to Stephens and Lemina coming back into the midfield. The front for saw Davis preferred to JWP and Tadic instead of Boufal. I have been calling for the inclusion of Shane Long but assumed it would be in one of the wide positions but he took Gabbiadini’s place upfront.
One of the rules I hate most in football is the one that allows you to loan players to/from clubs in the same division. With the money available to clubs these days there is absolutely no reason why this should be allowed but it is and Palace have two – Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea and Fosu-Mensah from Manchester United.
There’s the reassuring presence of Roy Hodgson on the touchline as the game starts. Reassuring for us that is. Palace have the first attack with the Chelsea player chucking in a cross that Townsend can’t control. Palace haven’t scored all season and we only have one from open play so no one’s expecting a goal fest so what happens on 6 minutes is a major surprise. Davis drives forward from midfield and slides in Tadic on the right, he takes on Schlupp on the outside and fires it across first time with his right foot, Hennessey pushes it out and there’s Davo to pass it into the corner of the net, past the ex-Skate who is on the line but going to wrong way. Get in.
Hang on – we look superb in midfield and in defence. Lemina is playing like a machine and the back four are well drilled. Yoshida is competing well with Benteke and Hoedt is spraying the ball about. This looks great. It gives us the platform to build and following another Davo break, Tadic picks out Long with a superb cross and he tries to lob a header over Hennessey but gets it wrong and hits the crowd via the corner of his head.
This is Saints though and we can fuck up any situation and after Hoedt wins a challenge in defence, Redmond falls on his arse and Townsend plays in Chelsea and his cross is met by Benteke five yards out but he’s scooped it a bit and Fraser is there to block. Good save big orange man.
As the half goes on, Lemina is the king in midfield, winning the ball back and driving forward. The usually decent Cabaye and McArthur are nowhere for Palace. Their only threat is Made in Chelsea and he combines with Benteke and drills a good low shot just wide from the edge of the box and then produces another decent driving run which ends with a shot which is well blocked by Bertrand. For all our domination in midfield we are not creating much with a Redmond scuffer which goes wide being as close as we get. The half ends with Townsend latching on to a Benteke flick and lashing it wide of the near post with his favoured left foot. He’s crap really isn’t he?
With Saints having emphatically won the midfield battle in the first half, England’s finest changes the Palace shape and decides that it may be better if there’s a player somewhere near Benteke and pushes the Chelsea player forward. To be fair it works and Saints looks a bit panicky. Romeu gives the ball away on the edge of our box and Chelsea runs at the left side of our defence and his low cross evades everyone. Palace recycle it and Schlupp bends in a great cross from the left and Punch meets it about 5 yards out but Fraser has made himself into a huge orange starfish and blocks superbly. If de Gea or Courtois makes that save then Sky are creaming off about it for years.
Palace’s frustration is beginning to boil over and they start kicking anything that moves. Saints break up the right and Punch decides to just charge into Tadic with an NFL style block. He then moans about the yellow card he gets. Ward is up next with a bit of control that he obviously learned in Portsmouth and he rugby tackles Redmond. McArthur takes time out from being schooled by Lemina and dives is to two ridiculous challenges in quick succession, seeing yellow for the second when they were both worthy.
It’s about 75 minutes before we make our first sub with Redmond being replaced by JWP. It’s not been a great day for Nathan so it’s a solid looking substitution. Roy then makes the managerial decision that has the most benefit to Saints that he could by removing the Chelsea player who has been their best player by a mile. To be fair, he has been suffering with ‘qwamp’. I feel that this game is comfortable for us now and then Yoshida smacks a clearance into Lemina which luckily bounces straight to Fraser. Mario can even snuff our danger when the ball is smashed at him from 5 yards when his back is turned.
With 6 minutes left of the 90 came the moment that the media will be talking about over and above everything when Virgil made the appearance in a Saints shirt that he was never going to make. On he comes for Tadic and takes his place in between Yoshida and Hoedt which is a sign of things to come for me. It looks a tactically sound move as Palace are launching everything up to Benteke now. I’m happy with this because Benteke clearly doesn’t give a shit. Seriously, I’d take him off and try and play some football.
There are no more alarms as we get to 90. Whilst the clock is ticking down and you have a 1-0 lead, it’s always nice to be camped up the other end of the pitch and we eventually work it across to Cedric who cuts in from the right and hits a shot at Hennessey which is well blocked. With just seconds remaining on the clock, Palace attempt to break and the game ends in the same style as it’s had for the past 90 minutes with Lemina hunting down the ball and taking it off a Palace player like he was taking back his own personal property. That’s my ball, this is my field, these are my rules, now fuck off. Game over and Roy looks like he needs a blanket and warm milk back in the rest home.
In the end it was a win that showed exactly what we are about. We are resilient defensively and with the two beasts in midfield we should be able to dominate quite a few games. We still haven't got it going quite upfront because if we did have, this game would've been dead and buried at half time whilst we were dominating it. In the end it took two really good saves from Fraser to ensure that we won it. If Palace had got anything out of the game it would've been a fucking travesty but it’s an odd game in that if you just watch the highlights and incidents near the goal, it looks like we’ve survived a battering. Having sacked a manager who actually dared to play some football, they've gone back to a manager who instantly just reverted to smashing it long to Benteke who didn't have any players around him whatsoever, especially in the first half. In the second half, Made in Chelsea got close to him and causes a few problems but then he came off and Roy brought on a defensive midfielder. This pushed Cabaye further forward but to no effect.
Saints dealt with the one Palace tactic, the long ball up to Benteke, by Yoshida getting as close as he could to Benteke and not letting him bring the ball down and when he flicked it on either the full backs or the seriously impressive Wesley Hoedt tidied everything up. The area we completely dominated was in midfield where Lemina was absolutely immense. Romeu did his usual thing and that enabled Steve Davis to roam around, read the game and get the team moving. One thing I will say is that Palace were dirty bastards and fully deserved the five bookings that they got. Some really cynical horrible play combined with moaning about it to the referee afterwards. I know Jason Punch was the captain but he acted like a whiny little bitch right the way through the game.
Shane Long did what Shane Long does and hassled and harried and was a complete pain in the arse for the defenders and you have to say that team selection totally worked. Dusan Tadic had a decent first half before fading horribly on the second but Redmond was poor. He did have a couple of half breaks and efforts on goal but more often than not he was falling on his arse and just giving the ball away. Maybe bring Gabbiadini in to play on the left and make him and Shane Long interchangeable?
We have to talk about Virgil I guess. He came on for the last 10 minutes for the inevitable aerial bombardment and whilst I have no doubt his presence did help matters, his timing was way out getting our jumped for virtually every ball. It'll come I guess. Even though he didn’t win much, his presence enabled us to have more players to sweep up the flick ons and he did look interested.
So, a great result for Pellegrino in terms of the fact that he obviously thought about what went wrong the previous week and changed it and today was much better. Mind you, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put Mario Lemina in the team. He was absolutely fucking outstanding today and it was the easiest decision for the man of the match that there can ever have been. The useless wanker that is Philip Neville was saying on Match of the Day that some of the big clubs will already be looking at Lemina. It's so predictable that it's fucking hilarious. You have to laugh or else you get angry about it. To give today a bit of context, which Phil Neville is obviously totally incapable of doing, it is the first game that Mario has played 90 minutes for us and we are playing against a team who are bottom of the league having lost all five games. Hey, I think Mario was absolutely brilliant today but it is only one game. Let's see how he gets on against a good side, like the Manchester United side that we play next week.
It was a good day for Mauricio - the charge upfront with Shane work very well as did the central defensive partnership. We just have to work out how to play home games now. It was great for Steven Davis to actually get a shot on target but the best bit of today for me was the two saves by Fraser. The Twitter army who have been slagging him off for quite a long time at every opportunity, were conspicuously absent straight after the game. They’d still prefer us to pick McCarthy, who let in 4 for the under 23s in midweek and is never fit for longer than 10 minutes. They also wanted to pick Mouez Hassen last year who no one had ever seen play.
Straight after the game, due to it being an early kick-off, we had shot right at the table to fifth-place which is rather cool. I was looking around at Ronald Koeman and Everton but they were fucking nowhere. I looked for Juergen Klopp and Liverpool and they were below us as well. It looked different at 5pm and we had dropped to 9th but for now, happy days.
Next up, as mentioned, it's Manchester United at home and the moaning fuck that is Jose Mourinho. Bring it on. Someone's got to hand them their first defeat of the season so why not us. I see us playing 3-5-2 with Virgil coming into the side in place of either Redmond or Tadic.
You Want This Ball? Come and Take It.