By James Nalton, Football Whispers
When any manager takes the reins at a new club they’ll look to make their own mark on the way the team plays by bringing in some of their own players and implementing their own style.
A lot of coaches will do this over time, realising that the transition between what the current set of players have been used to, and any new systems, tactics, and philosophies they want to implement requires some time on the training pitch and in front of the tactics board in order to adjust to them.
The club had used a back five in a couple of games under their previous manager Sam Allardyce, but a 4-0 defeat at home against Sunderland put an end to that particular experiment.
De Boer’s arrival would provide a change, not just in the shape of the team but also in the whole philosophy and the way the players approach games. The club’s last five managers were Ian Holloway, Tony Pulis, Neil Warnock, Alan Pardew, and Allardyce. The Dutchman is only their second non-British or Irish manager after Attilio Lombardo acted as player manager for seven games in 1998, so his presence is a whole new direction for the club.
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And so far it hasn’t been successful. Palace have lost their first three games in the league, and this weekend they travel to Burnley who, despite being a side most teams think they should beat, were notoriously difficult at home last season.
Surprisingly, it’s not just the Palace of recent seasons who are more used to playing a back four than a back three. De Boer himself primarily used a back four during the stint at Ajax which put him on the managerial map as one to watch, and throughout his unsuccessful spell at Internazionale he only dabbled with the back three in a league where its use is more common.
So if both the club and the manager have had previous success with a back four, then reverting to it would make a lot of sense. De Boer can then gradually apply his philosophies within a more familiar shape.
Maybe it was the case that the back three was used for the bedding in period, as the new gaffer didn’t trust a formation with two centre backs to play a more expansive game, but switching to the 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 he used at Ajax would appear to suit everyone.
It would allow Christian Benteke to play as the central striker, using his aerial ability and strength to bring in players such as Wilfried Zaha (when he returns from injury) and Andros Townsend from wide areas. Jason Puncheon could play either a role in midfield or in support of the striker in the forward three, while the choices from Yohan Cabaye, James McArthur, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Luka Milivojevic provide a good mixture of options for the midfield trio.
The signing of Mamadou Sakho from Liverpool could also be key in turning around their poor start to the season. The Frenchman impressed on loan at Selhurst Park towards the end of last season, and on his day he’s one of the best defenders in the league.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah, on loan from Manchester United, could also play a part in the defence, but if he switches to a back four, De Boer could also look to use him in the deepest midfield role, protecting the centre backs and linking with the midfield.
The manager definitely has the tools at his disposal to change formation, and given the success he’s had with it in the past and the fact the team he inherited in London are already used to it, it would make a lot of sense.
Coming back to what they know at Burnley, along with the introduction of new signing Sakho in the left centre back role, could be a turning point for a manager who already has the media suggesting his possible replacement.