Roy Hodgson is, without mincing words, a legend of football tactics. He is now back managing his beloved Crystal Palace and, judging by the current standings, doing better than ever. But how is he pulling it off?
Today, we will look at the tactics of one of the Premier League’s minnows, a team that has constantly avoided relegation and humbled many top sides along the way. These are Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace tactics, with a focus on the 2023/24 season.
Roy Hodgson’s Pre-Crystal Palace Career
Roy Hodgson’s had a storied career, to say the least. Hodgson, a man bestowed with a CBE Order of the British Empire, is, at 75 years, the oldest manager in the history of the Premier League. And his recent results are among the best in his career.
That is not to say that he has not found success before. After a career as a player in non-league football, Hodgson was employed as manager of Sweden’s Halmstads Bollklubb. By the 1980s, he had stitched to Malmo FF, where he guided the team to five consecutive championships.
He added tenures in charge of Inter Milan, Liverpool, Fulham and the United Arab Emirates national team. Hodgson has won trophies in Sweden and Denmark and was runner-up in the UEFA Cup and Europa League. Roy Hodgson’s best league finish with Crystal Palace has been eleventh place.
Roy Hodgson’s career as a manager spans over four decades. It is then understandable that his tactical philosophy has undergone certain changes over time. Still, some of his principles have remained unchanged.
Under regular circumstances, Hodgson likes his teams to line up in a 4-4-2 system to employ zonal marking. Players are instructed to pass quickly, to move fast into attacking positions and to return to their designated spots when the ball is lost. This, naturally, works excellently when you have some of the best players in the league, as Hodgson had at Malmo in Sweden.
Crystal Palace tend to line up in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1. They play in a low block. This is needed in order to try and neutralize attacking threats from opposing teams who have much stronger squads. The team does, however, play up from the back. They look to make the best of their possession. They defend in groups of 7-8 players and are well-drilled in this aspect.
More important than his tactical philosophy may be Hodgson’s life philosophy. He has earned a reputation as a likeable manager who is able to instil discipline and teamwork. This was, at least, part of the “secret sauce” that helped Crytal Palace narrowly avoid relegation when he was reinstated as the team’s manager at the end of the 2022/23 Premier League season.
Formation and tactics
Hodgson’s tactics are almost synonymous with the balanced 4-4-2 system. However, recently, he has shown to be on board with bringing in new ideas. Crystal Palace has lined up in a more modern 4-2-3-1 or even 4-3-3 formation. This has allowed the team to neutralize the offensive threat of teams, typically playing in a similar system.
Palace’s line-up has also been consistent over the last 12 months. Sam Johnstone plays in goal. The central defensive partnership of Marc Guehi and Joachim Anderson is integral to Hodgson’s plans. Cheick Doucoure and Jefferson Larma are the two defensive-minded central midfielders. Jordan Ayew plays behind the striker or on the right. Meanwhile, Odsonne Edouard provides the attacking threat.
It should be easily noticed that Palace have no clear stars in their ranks. The only one that might have qualified for this position was Wilfred Zaha. The winger, however, opted to depart this summer and join Galatasaray. While this seemed like an important blow, and while the club did not end up making many transfers, the team’s playing style has not suffered.
Crystal Palace in Attack
Last season, Hodgson managed to greatly increase Crystal Palace’s xG (from 0.79 to 1.02). While this season, the figure has gone down and they’ve often squandered great chances, it’s been enough to guarantee them strong results. In fact, they have a much worse xG then any of the teams near to them in the league.
This may also suggest that the good times can’t last indefinitely that the team’s stats aren’t as strong as expected. it may also mean that they team is better balanced and that morale is propelling them.
One key factor contributing to this significant improvement is the reintroduction of Eze into Palace’s starting lineup. Operating in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Eze assumes the role of the attacking midfielder, granted the freedom to roam and influence the game. His versatility allows him to drift wide to support the wide players or make incisive runs through the middle, with the assurance of two midfield teammates behind him to mitigate turnover risks.
Roy Hodgson’s team in possession
Eze and Cheick Doucoure make the highest number of through balls and bring the creativity to the team. Still, with 3 and 4 through balls in 7 matches, it is easy to assume that Palace’s large number of points can’t be sustained at this rate.
Similarly, Jordan Ayew is viewed as Palace’s greatest goal threat. The forward makes only 0.43 goal-scoring actions per 90 minutes. Jean-Philippe Mateta has managed 0.83 on the other hand, even though he has yet to score. Simply put, this isn’t enough to guarantee the team goals and points. Thus far, this has not proven to be an issue.
Crystal Palace’s attacking prowess is further enhanced by their exceptional counter-attacking ability. Despite their lower possession statistics, the team excels in swiftly transitioning from defence to attack. They prioritize moving forward and seeking goal-scoring opportunities whenever they have the ball.
Palace, in the past, used to favour long passes. They’ve now achieved a greater level of balance. Risky passes are attempted only when it is deemed necessary.
They’ve also balanced attacking situations between the left and right flank, whereas in the past of those occurred down the left, where Wilfried Zaha played. However, Jeffrey Schlupp, the current left winger, is often given more of a free role. The player will often roam into attacking areas looking for space.