The first season of Patrick Vieira’s reign as Crystal Palace has, it’s fair to say, exceeded the expectations of possibly even the most optimistic Palace fans.
Arriving in SE25 during the summer of 2021, the Frenchman was tasked with overhauling an ageing squad which had, if truth be told, been treading water under the guidance of Roy Hodgson for the last 18 months. While there was a degree of hope over what may lay in store for the club over the coming campaign, there were twice as many supporters who felt a twinge of trepidation over the former Arsenal captain’s maiden season as a Premier League gaffer.
Thankfully for all of a red and blue persuasion, the first 11 months of Vieira’s tenure have seen an influx of young, talented footballers, all of whom seem to have good characters and a desire to soak up every drop of knowledge they can from their boss; such is his reputation among modern footballing royalty.
While our recruitment has been mightily impressive, the real feather in the gaffer’s cap has been the startling shift in our tactical approach from the beginning of the season until now. It’s one thing to propose a style that utilises energy, a high press and a commitment to building attacks through possession and willing off-ball runners, and another entirely to deliver upon that blueprint.
With the Eagles’ place in the Premier League all but mathematically secure for another season following a stoppage-time victory at St Mary’s, thoughts have inevitably begun to turn to the summer. There is plenty of belief within the fan base that the positive relationship shared by Dougie Freedman, Steve Parish and Vieira, alongside months of careful scouting and planning, will lead to a transfer window in which we can start on the front foot and look to secure our prime targets before whispers and speculation involving other potentially interested parties begins to take hold.
The most obvious area for attention heading into the summer months is at full-back. On the right, we’ve seen Nathan Ferguson’s move from West Brom back in the summer of 2020 fall flat, with the 21-year-old suffering all sorts of injury problems since moving to the capital.
In an ideal world, he’ll make a full recovery between now and August and establish himself as a regular presence for years to come, but football clubs and those who run them can and must be ruthless when dealing with scenarios such as this. Ferguson’s back-up consists of Joel Ward and Nathaniel Clyne, the latter of whom is set to see his current deal expire at the end of May. We could see Vieira take a new direction this summer, with both Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Ola Aina having been linked with Palace in recent days.
The left-hand side of defence is also a concern. The mightily impressive breakthrough of Tyrick Mitchell doesn’t make up for the fact that we have no obvious first team-ready cover for the academy graduate as things stand.
Tayo Adaramola has been earmarked as a potential star of the future but we’re yet to know if Vieira has quite enough trust in the youngster after some FA Cup outings to hold him up as the next in line on the left.
The centre of defence has undoubtedly been a strong part of the side throughout the 2021/22 campaign, with Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen striking up an impressive partnership at the heart of the back four. But below those two, we really do lack a like-for-like replacement.
Both James Tomkins and Martin Kelly will see their deals run out this summer, leaving many to assume that one or two ball-playing central defenders may well be on their way in to fill the void. We’ve been lucky with the aforementioned duo’s fitness this term, but progress dictates that a larger degree of cover is needed heading into Vieira’a second season.
There are other areas of concern too, albeit not as glaring. The hierarchy would surely like a more prolific goal-scorer to supplement the threat offered by Wilfried Zaha, having failed to get Odsonne Edouard’s engine truly revving since his move from Celtic.
There are also question marks over how we’ll fare in replacing the all-action style of Conor Gallagher in the middle of the park. In goal, it’s hard not to feel as though Vieira would prefer a stopper who’s a little more adept with their feet.
All in all, the work that’s there to be done between now and August should be a far more pleasant experience for all concerned when looked at in comparison to the gargantuan task facing everyone at the club when last season drew to a close.