Former Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira

Was Patrick Vieira sacked by the fixture computer?

Crystal Palace sacked Patrick Vieira as manager last week after a season and a half in the role. Yesterday they announced that his predecessor in the role, Roy Hodgson, will return as his successor.

Vieira’s dismissal comes at the end of a 12-game winless run: a statistic that makes bleak reading. But is there more than meets the eye to this supposedly unacceptable run of form?

Putting Things in Context

Burnley manager Vincent Kompany was asked his thoughts on Palace’s decision. Whilst it wasn’t surprising to see Kompany defend his former Manchester City team-mate, he did make some good points.

As Kompany highlights, Palace’s run of games has been against extremely difficult opposition. This is especially the case given the relative strength of their squad and the recent injury to Wilfried Zaha. The 12 games without a win were:

6 home league games

  • Tottenham 0-4
  • Man Utd 1-1
  • Newcastle 0-0
  • Brighton 1-1
  • Liverpool 0-0
  • Man City 0-1

5 away league games

  • Chelsea 1-0
  • Man Utd 2-1
  • Brentford 1-1
  • Aston Villa 1-0
  • Brighton 1-0

1 home FA Cup tie

  • Southampton 1-2

Before this run of games, I think most neutral fans and commentators wouldn’t predict many Palace wins. The only game where I would say they were the pre-match favourite was the Cup tie against Southampton. The 4-0 loss to Spurs aside, the matches have been close.

When you add in Palace’s lack of January spending and the injury to their star player Zaha, I don’t think these results are surprising. It’d be easy to conclude that it was the fixture computer that did for Patrick Vieira.

Months Without Winning

There’s an easy counter to this argument, of course. If you’re a Crystal Palace fan, you’ve just seen your team go literally months without winning a game. That’s a draining experience. It’s not much fun spending your hard-earned money following your team around the country just to see yet another defeat.

However, it’s hard to place the blame for that on Vieira. Perhaps if Crystal Palace had signed another attacking player in January this may have given them an outlet in these tough games. Most of the games were draws or losses by a single goal. It’s not hard to imagine an exciting new attacking addition making a difference. A handful of goals sprinkled across this run of games would completely change the complexion.

Vieira himself was probably just as frustrated as fans. He also now won’t get the chance to play Palace’s run-in. After navigating the tricky run, he doesn’t get to play the upcoming fixtures where Palace are better-matched.

Better Conclusions

Instead of asking questions about Vieira, really this just asks more questions about the competitiveness of the Premier League. The league is not well-balanced. Clubs like Crystal Palace do not have the resources to compete head-on with the biggest-spending clubs. That’s a less obvious problem when their games against top-half teams are evenly distributed in the season. However, when they play the whole set above them and then the whole set below them, it creates the joyless months described above for fans.

Crystal Palace look to be an established Premier League team. Indications are still that they will stay up this season. However, if this form did continue into their games against the bottom teams then this could quickly change. This possibility terrifies the club’s chairman Steve Parish. However the result, merely fighting to remain in the league season after season, is potentially joyless. Too many Premier League clubs live in this limbo. A run of fixtures like this for Palace allows fans to see behind the curtain of the supposed “greatest league on Earth”.

Can Hodgson expect a new manager bounce?

With Vieira gone, former Palace manager Roy Hodgson has returned for a second spell in the dugout.

The anticipation is that Palace will now enjoy the “new manager bounce”. Pundits talk about this as a truth of the game: that form will change when the manager does. However, this may itself give further food for thought.

Statistical studies have shown that a team’s form does improve when the manager is changed. However, the same happens even when the manager is retained. This is quite intuitive if you think about it: both because of the statistical concept of regression toward the mean, and a footballing one: that it is hard to consistently win matches.

It’s very possible that Crystal Palace could go on a good run now for the rest of the season. They play eight of the teams below them in their final ten matches. It’s also easy to imagine that Vieira might have won those matches. Now we will never know what would have happened if he’d remained in charge. Palace will be hoping that Hodgson can deliver better results and a positive end to the 2022/23 season.

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