The move started with a Joel Ward touch deep into Crystal Palace territory and ended, 58 seconds later, with Conor Gallagher firing an angled finish into the corner of Brighton’s net.
In the meantime, the ball passed through all of Palace’s players, including goalkeeper Jack Butland. The patient accumulation of 20 passes opened up Brighton and although the goal was not enough to win the game, his mention still brings a smile from Patrick Viera a week later.
“I knew it was a nice goal in terms of construction from the back, but I didn’t realize at the time that each player had touched the ball because I was too much in the game,” said he declared. sky sports. “It was good to see him again, because it shows the way we want to play.”
Vieira speaks on Zoom from the club’s headquarters in Beckenham, where for the past six months he has overseen a transformation. The Premier League table shows Palace in roughly the same position as last season. But, from the personnel to the style of play, just about everything else is different.
Vieira’s predecessor Roy Hodgson has done an excellent job throughout his four-year tenure, providing stability in difficult circumstances and helping to establish Crystal Palace’s presence in the Premier League.
But football was functional rather than thrilling and there was an appetite for change. Vieira came with a mission to overhaul the team and modernize the style and that is precisely what he did.
“It was the direction that the president [Steve Parish] wanted to take and that’s also one of the reasons I’m here because he understood the way I wanted the team to play,” he said.
“It was a risk, obviously, to change your style, and even more so when you have this kind of player transition, where you lose 12 and bring in eight young guys without much Premier League experience.
“So when you look at what was going to be the first 10 games of the season [which included meetings with Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City], you see all the elements are there to get through a difficult period.
“But with the support to implement my philosophy and with the unity of the football club – and when I say unity I mean the president, [sporting director] Dougie (Freedman) and the staff – we managed to get through it which allowed me to focus on how I wanted to play as a team.”
Vieira immediately shakes his head when asked if the scale of the task at hand made him think twice about taking the job – “I was really excited about coming,” he says – and Palace fans are glad he didn’t.
The 45-year-old, a three-time title winner with Arsenal who cut his teeth as a Manchester City academy coach before taking charge of New York City FC and French side Nice, inspired optimism in the stands and brought freshness. in the field.
A series of young summer signings, including Gallagher (21), Marc Guehi (21) and Michael Olise (20), have lowered the team’s average age by two years, and while Palace sit 11th place in the Premier League standings ahead of Sunday’s game. meeting with Liverpool, the underlying data ranks them eighth among the best players in the division.
Do the numbers encourage Vieira?
“When you look at the data side of things, you can say, ‘Yeah, we should be a little higher up the chart,’ and that’s positive,” he says. “But on the other hand, it’s about trying to figure out why you’re not where you’re supposed to be, or where you want to be.
“It’s about understanding and trying to find the things that will make us a better team so that we can improve those kinds of details to get better results. So overall, yeah, it’s positive. , but it’s not enough for what I want. I’m always going to be demanding and want more from the players because I think they have the potential to do more.”
The main areas for improvement are clear to him.
“I would like the team to be more ruthless in both cases,” Vieira said.
“It means on the defensive side, but at the same time when we win 1-0 and we have some chances to score the second, I want us to have that kind of ruthlessness to score the goal that would allow us to go two ahead. .
“It’s about having a maturity, and that comes with experience. Hopefully in the second half of the season that will be one of the areas we really improve on, but it takes time to get there. to arrive.”
Vieira’s philosophy is vital to him. “I knew that if I decided to become a coach,” he says, “that would be how I would like to see my teams play, because when I go to see games I like that kind of intensity, possession and trying to play”. move forward and score goals.”
But he is also a pragmatist. In October, he led Palace to a 2-0 win at Manchester City with just 32% possession. Sunday against Liverpool, he knows they will have to be flexible again.
“The goal against Brighton is good because it highlights the way we want to play, but we’re not going to score goals like this every weekend,” he said. “We have to understand that scoring in different ways is as important as scoring in that way.
“It’s important to be consistent with the style, but at the same time it’s important to have the right game plan depending on the team you’re going to play. Obviously if you want to have possession when you play against Manchester City, for example, you know it’s not… impossible, but really difficult.
“So it’s about knowing that and saying, ‘What are we going to do instead? This is another aspect of the game that we also need to improve when we don’t have the ball. How can we be stronger? How to go from a ball to a ball without a ball?
“It’s something we have to learn and we have to put more emphasis on it because these kind of teams have the philosophy and players, so it will be difficult to match them on that side.
“I’m not telling you that we are going to change our philosophy, but we have to take into account the strength and quality of the opposing team.”
That certainly applies to Palace’s next opponents.
Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Vieira’s former club Arsenal on Thursday in the Carabao Cup semi-final showed they remain a formidable proposition even without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, but Crystal Palace will at least have the visceral support of a bouncing Selhurst Park behind them.
Under Vieira, they have accrued 71 per cent of their Premier League points there and have lost just twice – to Aston Villa and West Ham – in all competitions. The connection between fans and players is stronger than ever this season.
“It’s extremely important,” says Vieira. “Since I’ve been here, I really understand the relationship between the fans, the club and the players. There’s a passion, there’s care, there’s a real love that the fans show the players, and I think it’s extremely important for players, staff and everyone else to show that love in return.
“One of the ways we can do that when we’re on the pitch is to play with passion, love and determination because those fans deserve it.”
Vieira uses Gallagher as an example. The Chelsea loanee has been lauded for his goals and assists this season, but it’s his work rate that has endeared him to fans the most, according to his manager.
“I think the way Conor plays reflects that connection we have with the fans very well,” Vieira said. “That’s one of the reasons why he’s also a fan favourite. Those qualities are what our fans love, when the players on the pitch play enthusiastically, happily.
“Of course, they also understand the game. They know that making mistakes, passing the ball at the wrong time, is part of the game. But what they want is for the players to play with soul and heart. I think they did it fantastically well.”
Watch Crystal Palace vs Liverpool live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick off 2 p.m.