Crystal Palace demonstrate progress by finishing 2021 in top half of Premier League

Crystal Palace were given plenty to smile about as they beat Norwich 3-0
Crystal Palace were given plenty to smile about as they beat Norwich 3-0 / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

Of the 13 seasons Crystal Palace have spent in the Premier League, they've ended just one in the top half of the table.

Under Neil Warnock until late December and subsequently under the supervision of Alan Pardew, the Eagles' 2014/15 season ended in a hugely respectable 10th-placed finish in England's top flight.

Fast forward seven years and, following on from the unmistakable foundations laid by the steady hand of Roy Hodgson, Patrick Vieira is reaching heights that very few have ever reached at Selhurst Park.

The legendary Frenchman has overseen a tremendously exciting beginning to his tenure at the club. And halfway through his maiden campaign as Palace boss, his team are sitting ninth in the Premier League table, entering 2022 with real optimism for the future.

Patrick Vieira
Patrick Vieira is building something encouraging at Selhurst Park / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages

Positive results haven't been too regular in the first half of the 2021/22 campaign, admittedly. The Eagles have managed just five wins in their opening 19 league games, losing six and drawing eight.

But when taking into account performances and progress, it's no surprise that a win rate verging on a seemingly bleak 25% hasn't provoked much panic whatsoever. The draws obtained have been decided by the most marginal of factors and moments - moments that could have just as easily swung in Vieira's side's favour.

What has become abundantly clear since Vieira's arrival is the transformation of a team with firm roots in defensive solidity into one who can take the game to an opposition.

While there have been occasional mishaps at the back, Palace have actually become more secure under their new boss.

Jean-Philippe Mateta
Promising times for Crystal Palace / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

Compared to an average concession of 1.74 goals per game throughout the 2020/21 Premier League campaign (in which the departing Hodgson led them to a 14th-placed finish), the Eagles are shipping just 1.42 goals every 90 minutes this term - so far, of course.

In addition, their attacking output has simply hit another level. Gone are the days of largely feeble uninspiring breakaways. Now, Palace are an exciting, well-oiled, dynamic collective that embarks on full-blooded offensive forays - so far evidenced by an increase of 0.34 goals scored per game from last term.

And they are actually bloody brilliant to watch.

In their final game of 2021, they earned comfortable 3-0 win over Norwich. Bagging that fifth league victory of the season were goals from Odsonne Edouard, Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jeff Schlupp.

The first came from the penalty spot, the second from a sweeping counter attack, and the third from a moment of dynamic thrust after a period of possession. Three entirely different goals, coming from a largely depleted Eagles side.

Without Wilf Zaha and Conor Gallagher, many rightly worried about the capabilities of Vieira's stand-in men. As it turned out, Will Hughes was the dogged, tenacious centrepiece that linked things superbly; Schlupp was the driving force from midfield that we associate with Gallagher; and Mateta stepped up brilliantly to support the phenomenal Edouard on the day.

From defence to attack, there was never a shred of doubt about what the result would be.

Worried? Pfff.

Vieira visibly has this collective drilled to perfection and, despite fielding a massively rotated XI, the Frenchman - who watched in isolation - saw his men ruthlessly sweep aside the Canaries.

It was a performance demonstrating the bustling togetherness and developing quality developing within the Eagles' squad and, now occupying ninth place at the midpoint of the campaign, it's no stretch to ask ourselves just how far Vieira can take this Palace side.