You can watch highlights of Swansea v Crystal Palace on MOTD at 22:30 GMT on Saturday on BBC One and the BBC Sport website. Phil Neville joins Danny Murphy and Gary Lineker in the studio.
Crystal Palace’s crazy 5-4 defeat at Swansea means they have now lost six games in a row and pressure is mounting on Eagles manager Alan Pardew.
They are on a bad run, obviously, but I don’t think it is Pardew’s fault. I actually feel sorry for him, because Palace’s players are letting him down big-time at the moment.
Sometimes you can see a manager has picked the wrong team, is using the wrong tactics or has signed the wrong players.
But those are not the reasons why Crystal Palace lost at Swansea, or why they are struggling right now.
They are in this situation because their players’ application when they are defending set-pieces is nothing short of a disgrace.
Palace players lacking courage and concentration
Four of the five goals that Swansea scored on Saturday were from set-pieces, and Palace have now conceded 13 goals from free-kicks or corners in 13 Premier League games this season – five more than any other team.
You might see those statistics as being down to the manager but, against Swansea, Pardew set his players up in the perfect position to defend them, and they let him down.
It keeps happening, and it keeps costing Palace points – look at last week’s game against Manchester City when they switched off and Yaya Toure scored a late winner for City from a corner.
You cannot blame Pardew for that. As a manager, you cannot defend them yourself – successfully stopping teams at set-pieces is down to the players.
For me, it is about having the courage to win the ball and put your head in, sometimes where it hurts, and if your job is to pick someone up then you have to be focused on doing it.
Like I say, a manager can affect none of those things during a game. All Pardew can do with Palace is set them up in the right positions. He is doing that, but he cannot make them defend.
At the moment I think Palace’s players lack courage, determination and concentration at set-pieces, and they are paying the price for it.
Scoring goals is not a problem for Palace
Last season under Pardew, Palace had the joint-best record at defending set-pieces in the top-flight.
Along with Tottenham they conceded only seven times from them in 38 games, and they are not something his sides are previously known to struggle with.
They obviously practice defending free-kicks and corners in training and they will also have had some of Swansea’s set-pieces up on their wall of the dressing room.
So I am sure they were as well-prepared as possible ahead of Saturday’s game, but they kept on conceding goals that way.
If you are playing Palace and you get a free-kick in their half, you will now be thinking that there is a 60-70% chance we are going to score.
Unlike some of the other teams at the wrong end of the table, scoring goals is not a problem for Pardew’s side – they have got players who can score and the system they play, using the flanks and putting in lots of crosses, gets the best out of them.
They don’t lack quality, or spirit either. They are not what I would call a ‘dead’ team – in fact they are very dangerous when they attack.
It is purely and simply defensive set-pieces where they have problems. That is why they have fallen to near the bottom of the league.
Pardew’s job is safe – for now
I don’t think Palace’s latest defeat will cost Pardew his job.
Pardew is lucky because he is at a pretty unique club where the chairman Steve Parish is sensible – he understands football, can see what is happening and knows he has got a good manager.
It is rare these days to see a calm chairman, not somebody who will lose his head and think it is sacking season.
But Pardew is obviously highly thought of at Palace and is at a club where he will get time.
That situation will not last forever if his side keep losing, though, and the next two games are crucial for Pardew because Palace have got some very tough fixtures after that.
His team have to start winning soon but they are definitely capable of turning this bad run around. I think they are too good to be where they are in the table.
Pardew must stay positive too. He was clearly very disappointed straight after the Swansea game but sometimes as a manager you cannot do anything about a defeat.
He just has to accept what went wrong, keep working hard and hope that, when it comes to stopping set-pieces, the penny will eventually drop for his players.
Phil Neville was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/38081864