That Tony Pulis' odds to be the first Premier League managerial casualty of the season were as great as 40/1 shows just how much of a shock his departure would have come as. Nonetheless, he has indeed gone, and the task of replacing him looks like it will be a tough one, both for chairman Steve Parish and for Pulis' successor as Crystal Palace manager.
That looks set to be Malky Mackay, who moves to south London with only 18 Premier League matches under his belt. Only days earlier, Parish had stated in an interview aired on Match of the Day that his priority in finding a replacement was to recruit an experienced manager who was as schooled as Pulis in managing in England's top tier. Given Mackay is severely lacking in this regard, it is unlikely that his name immediately sprung to Parish's mind when Pulis' resignation was confirmed.
It was, however, a very public fallout with Cardiff's eccentric owner Vincent Tan that led to him leaving the Welsh club midway through last season rather than solely results. The fans loved him and he had the club he'd seen promoted to the Premier League for the first time fifth-from-bottom when he departed just after Christmas. They went on to finish bottom of the league, collecting just 13 points from 20 matches under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Still, he doesn't quite stack up when compared to the mighty Pulis. Last campaign's manager of the season oversaw an unprecedented rise at Palace from relegation shoe-ins in November to a comfortable mid-table finish in May. It wouldn't have been unreasonable to expect them to do even better and maybe even make it into the top half this season after Pulis had a full summer to continue to shape his squad. Mackay's career Premier League record of 4 wins from 18 will not fill fans with confidence that such progress will continue.
Importantly, Mackay will, however, recognise the need for pragmatism at Selhurst Park in the same way that Pulis did. Pulis' Palace were happy to sit back and soak up possession, a deep block with towering centre-backs and no space in behind proving nigh-on impenetrable for many an opponent, while they averaged a mere 35.3% possession and played the second highest proportion of their passes long (17.0%) of all Premier League teams during Pulis' reign. That is not to say that this is the only way for Palace to survive in the top flight, nor necessarily the best, but it obviously worked and a new manager would do well to continue the work Pulis did.
Comparatively, Mackay's Cardiff averaged 44.9% possession (7th least) and played 15.4% (4th least) of their passes long in Premier League games. They may have been 16th when Mackay departed but they were only 1 point clear of safety at that stage and this too is not to say that less possession is always preferable for the Premier League's lesser teams, but there is an argument to say that Mackay should have been more practical in his approach given the players at his disposal.
It was actually disagreements over the club's lack of willingness to back Pulis in the transfer market by that ultimately led to his departure, and it will be interesting to see how Mackay manages in this regard, with it reported today that he would be given a heft budget of £20-25 million to spend on three or four new players as Parish looks for his club to build on last season's 11th place finish.
Mackay's work at Cardiff with vast funds was mixed. Andreas Cornelius was a club record signing when he signed for around £8 million last summer, but he went on to make only 8 substitute appearances for the club, totalling just 107 minutes, 4 shots, 0 goals and an average ratings of 6.07 before leaving in January. Defensive acquisitions came in Steven Caulker (£8m) and Gary Medel (£11 million) but neither proved sufficient to stop the Bluebirds conceding 74 goals as they made a swift return to England's second tier. Pulis brought in Tom Ince (loan), Joe Ledley (£700,000) and Scott Dann (£1.5 million) to Palace in January and also added Brede Hangeland (free) and Fraizier Campbell (£900,000) this summer. There is little comparison in their relative success (although it is obviously extremely early days for the latter two).
Where Mackay will look to strengthen remains to be seen, but Palace's performances in the second half of last season and a fairly resolute showing at the Emirates on Saturday suggests there is not too much work to be done. Coupled with a relatively meagre wage budget and very little chance of breaking into the top 7, it is a wonder who exactly the Eagles will be able to attract. Mackay may look to his old club for reinforcements but it is a wonder who exactly would improve this Crytal Palace side.
Medel certainly would, but he wouldn't come cheap, and questions remain as to whether he would be willing to play for a manager with whom he has spent just one unsuccessful season. Kim Bo-Kyung is another he may look to, but having done extremely well in the Championship, he struggled in the top flight. Ben Turner and Andy Marshall were two of Cardiff's best-performing players last season, but it is unlikely that either would improve Palace significantly.
Nobody involved with the club would have wanted a start to the season as chaotic and uncertain as this, nor would many have predicted it. But this is the situation in which Steve Parish and Crystal Palace now find themselves. Whether Malky Mackay is the man to take them to the next level remains to be seen, but if past experience is anything to go by, he might well be best off merely aiming to continue the work of his predecessor.
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