IN HIS latest column, ALISDAIR KEMP explains why he thinks Neil Warnock is to blame for Crystal Palace's recent slump in form...
CRYSTAL Palace have lost their tactical identity under Neil Warnock. This sudden absence of direction after such a distinct philosophy under Tony Pulis last season has seen us criminally wasting minutes in numerous matches this term: none more so than in Manchester on Saturday.
The performance was insipid at best. Typically under such circumstances I am reluctant to blame the manager – often citing a lack of initiative among those actually able to take to the field of play – but not this time. The tactics employed by Warnock at Old Trafford were inept, unambitious and lacking in commitment: to such an extent that I was left questioning just how much homework the Yorkshireman had done on our depleted opposition.
An immediately superficial problem was our lack of desire to attack a woefully makeshift Manchester United defence. With a fresh-faced academy product and a utility man filling in at centre-back – not to mention two full backs with poor positioning and discipline in tracking back – the Red Devils were there for the taking.
Pressing high up the pitch (even at all would have been a start) and showing a little adventure going forward would have seen the vast array of attacking talent in the United ranks forced to retreat to pitch in defensively; into positions from which they could not possibly threaten our goal.
Indeed the lack of any pressing of the play whatsoever was bewildering. Before Juan Mata's deflected strike finally beat Julian Speroni, numerous shots had been fired – and deflected – from outside the penalty area. Not recognising and learning from this was unobservant on Warnock's part.
Wayne Rooney continually found pockets of space between the midfield and defence. Why then, did the manager not instruct James McArthur to perform a similar man-marking job on the former Evertonian to the one he enacted so diligently on Cesc Fabregas several weeks ago?
Looking at our offensive strategy, we failed spectacularly to live up to the superb counter-attacking reputation we built on the back of last season. In notable games under Pulis, including Chelsea at home and the 3-2 victory at Goodison Park, we were devastating at turning defence into attack. By tucking in both full backs and making ourselves as narrow and compact as possible, we drew opposition full-backs forward before exploding down the subsequently exposed flanks after turning over possession. The success of this relied on Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon hugging the touchlines and providing width on the break.
I was exasperated watching both wingers at Old Trafford take up bizarre and unhelpful central positions time and again. Louis Van Gaal must have been chortling at how much we played into his hands.
I do not doubt Warnock's man-management and motivational skills. However, his tactical decisions and substitutions leave a lot to be desired. His one 'masterclass' away at Everton was simply a carbon copy of the approach used there back in March, yielding the same scoreline.
He must sharpen up, otherwise the infamous "second-season syndrome" will take hold.