In its first game under new boss Roy Hodgson – the club’s fifth desperately dull British manager in four years – Palace fell 1-0 to Southampton. The performance was fine – just as three of the four previous performances had been. The result was unsatisfactory – just as all four under Frank De Boer were.
Palace didn’t just became the first team to start a Premier League season by going five games without a goal and without a point. It is the first team in the 100-plus year history of England’s top division to do so. Its start is as depressing as it is historic and remarkable.
It has also been heavily influenced by crummy luck. Palace had the better chances Saturday against the Saints:
xG map for Crystal Palace – Southampton. Oof.
Palace have 3.2 xG and 0 goals in their last two matches. 5.5 xG with no goals on the season. pic.twitter.com/CTu1HPtkQ5
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) September 16, 2017
In fact, despite propping up the Premier League table, Palace has more Expected Goals through five weeks than Expected Goals against. But it hasn’t converted chances into anything meaninful.
On Saturday, the approach and process differed from the ever so abbreviated De Boer era. Palace reverted to a 4-2-3-1, and couldn’t really get a hold of the ball early on. Hodgson’s side did eventually trouble the Saints defense with hints of attacking intent that De Boer’s Palace often lacked.
But the end result was the same: No goals. No points. Howls from frustrated home supporters, who sat through a 10-minute second-half downpour. And some promising signs, but plenty of improvement necessary.
Southampton waltzed through a toothless midfield inside six minutes to snatch the game’s only goal. Yohan Cabaye, whom managers somehow still consider a competent Premier League defensive midfielder, was invisible in the buildup. He was then lazy tracking back, and when Wayne Hennessey parried a cross to the top of the penalty area, Steven Davis was able to pounce.
Southampton controlled the next 20 minutes. And throughout the 90, whereas Cabaye and James McCarthur lacked bite, Southampton summer signing Mario Lemina impressed on both sids of the ball.
Palace’s most dangerous player was Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the Chelsea loanee who returned to the team after two matches out with a groin injury. He did so as the most advanced central midfielder, often bursting through the middle of the park to join Christian Benteke in attack.
Loftus-Cheek created Palace’s three best opportunities of the first half by doing just that. His low cross to Benteke forced a point-blank save from Fraser Forster. He then slid a 25-yard shot past Forster’s right-hand post, and minutes later drove into the box only to see a goalbound shot blocked by a lunging Southampton defender.
Forster again spread himself in his own goalmouth to somehow keep out a close-range Palace effort shortly after halftime. Such has been Palace’s luck through five games.
Through four matches under De Boer, underlying numbers, such as Expected Goals, pegged the Eagles as a mid-table team. They were decent throughout their first 90 minutes under Hodgson too, and on the balance of play probably deserved a point.
So, just as Palace should not have overreacted to De Boer’s four losses, fans and media shouldn’t overreact to Hodgson’s one.
The issue for Palace is the upcoming fixture list, which offers up Manchester City away, Manchester United away and Chelsea at home next. Zero points from a possible 24 to open the campaign is a real possibility. Or rather a real worry. Hodgson’s side already sits bottom of the table, now the only club without a win. Its loneliness could soon become even more exaggerated.
The squad is not one of the Premier League’s worst, and the performances haven’t been either. But this hole – currently three points and getting deeper – will take some climbing out of.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.