Vieira's Versatility - Crystal Palace's tactical philosophy
(Photo: Matthew Ashton/Getty Images)

Adaptability in the Premier League is invaluable. Not all teams have the ability to play their preferred philosophy against every opponent they face. When a club is fighting to stay in the division or push up the table, the team must do anything they can tactically to maximise points.

Tactical adaptability is a trait that Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira has proven he possesses and something he promised Eagles' fans when he first took the hot seat at Selhurst Park.

I will want to see the team on the front foot”, noted Vieira in his first official interview with Crystal Palace: “We want the teams to score more goals and to have more shots on target then we used to. But at the same time, keep this mental strength that the team has created”.

Vieira’s desire to play more aggressive and attacking football is ominous, and the Frenchman has implemented this in his team throughout last season.

However, being realistic about a team's expectations when playing with a distinct philosophy is important; adjusting tactics based on the opposition's ability can be pivotal in having the edge over your in-game opponents and neighbours in the table, even at the sacrifice of preferred playing style. 

This can be especially effective for mid-table sides such as Palace, who will not often have the quality of personnel European-level sides can boast. 

Scalping tough opposition, including the 3-0 home wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, and the 2-0 away win at Manchester City last season, showed the league that Vieira's Palace were not to be taken lightly.

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However, the ability to successfully adapt tactics depending on the opposition could see Palace become a cut above their mid-table opposition with Patrick Vieira at the helm and gain vital points that in the past would have evaded them.

  • Vieira’s Desire to Attack

Under Vieira, the south London club have shifted greatly from the philosophy of Roy Hodgson and developed into a much more attacking side. While often lining up in a similar 4-3-3 formation, their work in possession differs substantially.

Relying less on counter-attacking opportunities, Vieira looks to build from the back when attacking.

Playing from the back begins with the centre-backs, who often launch long diagonal balls to the wide attacking players, with Joachim Andersen being a particularly adept passer in the Eagles' defence.

Alternately, Palace may progress the ball through to the fullbacks, normally Tyrick Mitchell and Nathaniel Clyne

The interplay between the central midfield players and the fullbacks means the fullbacks can advance much higher up the pitch than during the Hodgson era.  

This creates overloads on the wing, which allow for threatening crosses to players such as Jean-Phillipe Mateta or Odsonne Edouard to latch onto or for the natural wingers like Wilfried Zaha or Jordan Ayew to make themselves a nuisance in the penalty area.

Zaha particularly is greatly skilled at cutting into the box and using his skill and timing to give himself the best chance of giving his team a goal.

  Wilfried Zaha has been Palace's main attacking threat since re-joining Palace permanently in 2015                         
​​​​​(Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

Alternately, if unable to make the cross into the box or pass to the winger the attacking midfielders will advance into the box during the attack and provide more options for the player in possession, thus giving Palace many more options to score.

This was seen in Palace’s shock win away at the Etihad against Manchester City, with Zaha’s hold-up play allowing star loanee Conor Gallagher to make the run into the box to complete the attack to make it 2-0.

The absence of Gallagher this season, whose box-to-box midfielder role was crucial for Palace’s attacking transitions last season, looks to be alleviated by Eberechi Eze, who has filled a similar role so far this season through his ball carrying and distribution to other attackers.

This is the ‘on the front foot’ football that Vieira wanted when he took the job, and with the return of Michael Olise from injury as well as a hoard of new young attacking talent coming through the door this summer, Vieira can be confident that his attacking philosophy can continue to rear its head in this Palace team.

  • Defensive Necessities 

However, the best way to get the points is not always to play the 'best' football. This is where Vieira has shown his talent for tactical adaptability.

Palace have shown that, when needed, they can become a quality defensive unit with the talent of their individuals at the back. They can then rely on quick counterattacks through to the forwards, who can seize their minimal chances to clinch points against tough opponents.

Against Liverpool on Monday night, Vieira set up in a 5-4-1 formation – a clear statement of intent that a Monday night at Anfield was not the arena to play the preferred possession-based attacking style of football.

An astute defensive display would be required for Palace to get anything from this fixture. 

With the quality of the opposition being so elite, Vieira's decision to line up with a five-man defence, and four midfielders dropping deep successfully, nullified Liverpool's attacking threat. 

Palace soaked up the constant Liverpool pressure and fought against their possessional dominance throughout the match, despite the help of the Merseyside club going a man down after Darwin Nunez's sending-off. 

In the first half, Palace had nine men sitting back, with just a lonesome Zaha twiddling his thumbs in anticipation of some service - which came in the form of an excellent piece of skill by Eberechi Eze to beat Fabinho and place the pass to Zaha to clinch the lead following a counter-attack.

This was the game plan, and Palace executed it as successfully as they hoped. 

While Liverpool did equalise, Palace still earned a point – not only a point they deserved but a point that many would rarely expect Palace to get at Anfield.

While this strong-willed philosophy of play will not always be successful against the top teams, Palace have the defensive quality in their squad to give themselves a much higher chance than many of their mid-table peers. 

Former Bayern Munich defender Chris Richards' signing for the Palace looks to sure up the Eagles' at the back and allow them to play with Vieira's desired versatility. (Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images) 

The defensive resilience shown throughout the Liverpool game shows that Vieira has instilled the ‘mental strength’ into his team that he promised when he joined. The Frenchman also gave the limelight to the tactical flexibility that he promised.

This ability to adapt between a four or five-man defence has been aided by the signing of Bayern Munch defender Chris Richards. He can play both at right-back and as a right-sided centre-back in a back three.

This allows Palace to switch between these tactical philosophies in-game, and Richards' comfortable debut appearance against Liverpool should give Palace fans hope that the USA international may help fulfil Vieira's desire for this versatility over the course of the new season. 

  • Conclusion

Vieira's tactical philosophy has worked very well in south London so far. One of the Frenchmen's major criticisms, when he was manager of OGC Nice, was that he had no distinguishable philosophy. 

The Guardian noted at the time of Vieira's sacking from the French club that 'Vieira’s philosophy, amid his continually shifting set-up, remains uncertain'. 

Yet, it is that uncertainty and continually changing tactics that have helped Palace thrive in the Premier League, with Palace having the defensive minerals to be resilient against world-class opposition, as well as the attacking threat to cause real problems for opponents. 

Aided by the top-class recruitment of players who can fit Vieira's systems, Palace, under their manager, look like a dangerous prospect this season, no matter how big a club you are. 

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