Three stats to watch for in Sam Allardyce's first game in charge
Can his tactics take hold already?11:25 Monday 26 December 2016, 11:25 26 Dec 2016
After a year in which he got his dream job, only to lose it again just 67 days later, Sam Allardce is back in football.
Crystal Palace proved to be the club most willing to pull the trigger and bring in the former Bolton and West Ham manager, who has an impressive record of saving sides from the drop.
The London side limped through 2016 with one of the worst records in English football under Alan Pardew. Despite early success last season, Palace lost 22 of their 36 league games in 2016, while one win in the last 10 games proved to be the final straw.
In announcing that Pardew had left the club, chairman Steve Parrish told the BBC that they were looking to change the style of play, and was clearly laying that groundwork to bring in Allardyce.
"We all bought into the decision to play a more expansive style of football," said Parrish. "We all believed in it. That hasn't worked. It's no-one's fault. But now we're going to wind the dial back the other way."
The style was a big issue for Allardyce during his run in charge of West Ham, but his record of success at helping struggling sides was underscored at Sunderland, as he helped the Black Cats pull off an improbable escape.
Much of that was down to employing a style of play that minimises risk and capitalises on the talents of the players at his disposal and, as he proved with Jermain Defoe, he doesn't always need a big man up top to make things work.
Under Allardyce, Sunderland scored the second highest number of goals from set pieces in the Premier League last term with 17, just behind Tottenham. It sounds simple, but capitalising on that area has been a trademark of the former Limerick manager and it has been proven to work. With a number of teams in the league showing an inability to shore up that weakness, he will no doubt be targeting that as an area where he can make some hay for the rest of the season.
In particular Watford are poor at defending set pieces, and seem to enjoy giving away free kicks in dangerous areas. Despite not having had too much time with his new side on the training ground yet, the early effects of his work could be seen here on St. Stephen's Day.
Allardyce's style is often critiqued for being "direct", but he has also shown that his teams are not one-dimensional either. During his time at Bolton, he incorporated some incredibly skilful and creative players into the mix, including Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff.
He has some similarly creative players in Yohan Cabaye and Wilfired Zaha, who he could employ to move the ball a bit quicker on the ground and unlock defences. However, at Sunderland, his side enjoyed less possession than their opponents, averaging at just under 40%, and looked to the long ball with frequency - one in every five passes was aimed up the pitch.
With the physical presence of Christian Benteke up top, this may be a tactic that Allardyce favours - at leas in the short term - as he tries to right the ship.
Shoring it up
Allardyce is nothing if not a nuts and bolts manager; getting the basics right is integral to what he does and how he gets his teams back on track.
When he took over at Sunderland, they had conceded 18 goals in just eight games, showcasing a defensive frailty that suggested they were destined for the drop. It took a little time to fix those issues, and while they still conceded 44 goals in the 29 games remaining in the season, the average came down from 2.25 goals per game to 1.51 goals per game.
Crystal Palace's defensive record has been poor, and he will target that first and foremost. Set pieces are a concern for them, contributing to the 32 goals they have conceded in their 17 league games so far this season.
From Christmas day last year, as the slump in form began to kick in, Pardew's side conceded 35 in 19 games, while Allardyce got that number down to 24 in the same timeframe at Sunderland.
Monday's game against Watford is unlikely to see the impact of the work that he will be doing on the training ground already, but focusing on some of the areas above in the coming weeks will paint a picture of how he's changing the team.
Of course, he also has a 100% win record with the national team. He won't be able to achieve that with Palace, but he will be hoping his reign in charge at Selhurst Park at least lasts a little bit longer.
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