Crystal Palace must embrace the pressure in search of success, says Patrick Vieira as second season begins

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·4-min read
Crystal Palace must embrace the pressure in search of success, says Patrick Vieira as second season begins
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When the two managers take their respective dugouts at Selhurst Park tonight, it will not only be Mikel Arteta able to reflect on how different things looked a year ago.

While the Spaniard began the campaign with question marks over his future that would only intensify ten-fold after three straight defeats, Patrick Vieira’s appointment as Roy Hodgson’s successor brought similar doubts over his suitability for the job.

The moment of peak scrutiny came before a ball was kicked, amid fears the Frenchman might prove another Frank de Boer, but while there were green shoots there in the draws with Brentford and West Ham that followed an opening day defeat by Chelsea, it was only after the hammering of Tottenham in early September that the Vieira revolution began to get full buy-in.

Twelve months on, and Vieira unsurprisingly suspects that a debut season in which he transformed the Eagles’ style of play overnight, never once flirted with relegation and reached an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley might have made his job, in one regard, a little trickier this time around.

“I think it’s the expectation,” he said, ahead of the match against ­Arsenal. “From the way we performed last year, people will expect more from Palace so this is something that as a football club, we will have to manage. We have to live with this kind of expectation, this kind of pressure on our shoulders.”

There have been circumstances over the summer that could easily have dented some of the momentum built last season.

The star of the show, Conor Gallagher, is no longer around. At a jubilant end-of-season awards night in Croydon, the loanee was serenaded almost into embarrassment by supporters while Steve Parish joked he would hold a whip-round to raise a transfer fee for the midfielder. The Palace chairman vowed to exploit even the smallest possibility of bringing Gallagher back this season but accepted the ball was firmly in Chelsea’s court where, as it turned out, they have been happy to keep it.

Vieira says his squad remains “short on numbers” and wants some experienced heads to help nurture the young stars that shone so brightly last term, like Michael Olise, who will miss the first few weeks of the season after joining full training for the first time only yesterday following a foot injury.

Most challenging of all, Vieira has had to put up with a “difficult” (read: ‘farcical’) situation that saw him travel to Singapore and Australia for a pre-season tour without half of his first-team squad, either because of fitness issues or failure to meet those countries’ entry requirements. He has vowed not to use the build-up as an “excuse” but conceded that “tactically, we had a lot to do to catch up in the last week”.

Yet, positivity still abounds and speaking yesterday, Vieira’s focus was all on picking up where he left off.

“We want to keep going where we finished last year,” said the Frenchman. “The last game of the season, we had a really good performance against Manchester United and what will be important is to keep those ingredients that allowed us to have that good season, keep that spirit and that togetherness.”

It is difficult to know quite what­ ­success would look like for Palace.

So much of last year’s was about aesthetic and enjoyment, Eagles fans forced to put up with disingenuous sneering as to what all the fuss was about as they seemed set to only match the points haul of Hodgson’s final ­season until pulling clear in the final five games.

Talk of targeting top-half finishes is usually arbitrary, given the mid-table placings are often tight and decided by results in de-facto dead rubbers at the end of the season. Does finishing 10th or 12th really matter? Did Wolves or Palace fans have a better time of it last term? There is only really one answer.

A repeat of the run to Wembley would clearly be a bonus, a push for Europe an overachievement, a relegation fight alarming regression. However, avoiding those extremes, the kind of raucous afternoons and nights at Selhurst Park, a dynamic young team in full flight, that punctuated last term should again be the signature. The stage could well be set for one this evening.

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