It has not been the start to Premier League life that Frank de Boer would have hoped for. After three defeats, zero goals scored and six conceded, the Dutchman’s Crystal Palace side sit second-bottom in the standings ahead of Sunday’s trip to Burnley.
The former Ajax and Inter head coach has been criticised for attempting to evolve the team’s style of play from a counter-attacking approach to a more possession-based one, but it must be remembered that he was appointed with that very objective mind in. At his unveiling, chairman Steve Parish spoke of the Eagles’ need to “find a way of breaking down teams that give us the ball… the technical detail is Frank’s world, but if teams give us the ball, typically, we lose. If we give them the ball, we beat them – and that’s top teams as well.”
There was thus a desire at the very top of the club for the on-field approach to change, which is why De Boer was preferred to other targets such as Burnley boss Sean Dyche. At the same time, though, Parish and American investors David Blitzer and Josh Harris were keen to avoid a heavy spending spree in the transfer window, largely because Palace had invested more than any other Premier League club in January. Tallying those two aims was always going to be extremely difficult.
Indeed, although the south London outfit brought in Tim Fosu-Mensah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek on season-long loans, the only permanent addition made before deadline day was ex-Ajax defender Jairo Riedewald. Palace did then capture Mamadou Sakho in the final few minutes of the window, but De Boer has not been exactly backed in the market to the extent you would expect for a manager who has been tasked with overhauling his team’s style of play.
There is no doubt that the early signs at Selhurst Park have not been promising; 3-0 and 2-0 defeats by Huddersfield Town and Swansea City may have been closer games than the scorelines suggest, but Palace were still second best on both occasions. Some players do not look comfortable trying to carry out the type of football De Boer promotes, while there is a suspicion that the new style might not suit key players such as Christian Benteke and Andros Townsend.
The permanent acquisition of former loanee Sakho will no doubt help, but it is hard not to be pessimistic about De Boer’s long-term job prospects. However, should he be sacked or walk away in the coming weeks, the board deserve to receive as much of the blame for Palace’s poor start to the campaign – if not more. As Parish himself admitted when he introduced his latest manager to the press in June, “if Frank fails it is my failure too”.