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Patrick Vieira chance to make Manchester City pitch

Patrick Vieira went to post this season among the favourites to be first out of a job but the Crystal Palace manager has proved all his doubters wrong – and if the last couple of months go to plan he could well be on his way into Eagles' folklore.

Vieira, Watford's Xisco Munoz and Steve Bruce at Newcastle were the men who shared the dubious distinction of topping sack race betting before a ball had been kicked – and neither Xisco nor Bruce are still around.

Nor are six other top-flight bosses who have come and gone since August while Vieira goes about his business, continuing to improve a side which needed improving, and now conversations about the Frenchman are less about when he leaves, more where he goes next.

And there are more than a few sages who have Vieira lined up to replace Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Palace's opponents at Selhurst Park on Monday.

And given what Vieira has done with Palace in less than a full season, it's easy to appreciate why the 45-year-old's stock is on the rise.

Seeds sown for a City future?

Palace are 3/1 to finish in the top half this season and 12/1 to win the FA Cup. That Eagles' fans and football punters are even mulling over those prices at this stage of the campaign, indicates quite how well the London club are going.

They also underline what a decent job is being done by Vieira, a combative yet thoughtful leader of men as a player who it was generally presumed would go on to coaching and be a success.

The pedigree was beyond dispute. Three Premier League titles with Arsenal, captaining them to the last of those, was followed by four more league crowns in Italy with Inter Milan. He won 107 caps, a World Cup and European Championship with France. As a midfielder in the 1990s and 2000s, he was peerless.

He signed off his playing career at The Etihad and almost instantly drifted into a coaching and youth development role, signposting quite clearly what his intended next career was going to be and in 2015, after side-stepping a role at Newcastle, headed for the United States to assume head coaching duties at Manchester City's partner club, New York City.

Nice route back to London

In three seasons in New York he improved their league position every time before moving back to France and Nice in 2018. Eighth the season before he arrived, seventh in his first full season in charge, fifth in the next, he was fired in December 2020 after a five-game losing streak but having done more than enough to suggest he could cut it in Europe's big leagues.

And on 4th July, 2021, he got his chance in the Premier League, returning to London to manage Palace. He hadn't been first choice and after a flat end to life under Roy Hodgson, there was hardly a groundswell of optimism around SE25 that the good times were around the corner under the club's rookie boss.

Palace were sent off 7/4 to be relegated – only the three promoted clubs were shorter odds – and Vieira's start wasn't an auspicious one with just one win – against ten-man Tottenham – in their opening nine. They weren't losing many, but they weren't winning many either.

But Vieira was trying to change the way Palace were playing and that wasn't going to be an overnight fix.

Under Hodgson, Palace had become a dour, defensively-minded side, looking to obvious outlets like Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze on the counter. Vieira wanted to play a more possession-based passing, all short, quick passes out from the back while retaining a solid, defensive shape.

Victory at The Etihad

If there was a turning point in Palace's ninth straight top-flight campaign – and there are usually several – then surely going to Manchester City and winning 2-0 was it. If a side needed belief in itself; if a head coach needed confirmation that his ideas were the right ones, surely getting one over on Pep Guardiola had to be a key moment.

And Guardiola made no secret of the fact that he was impressed by Palace – and Vieira. And words of praise from the City boss tend to echo in the boardroom. Suddenly, Vieira was the talk of the town.

Summer signings Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi have developed into a rock-solid central defensive pairing while another of Vieira's first buys, Conor Gallagher, was beginning to flourish in either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, the formations of choice of the Eagles' new gaffer.

Zaha remains integral and seemingly happy, Michael Olise is blossoming and the upshot is that Palace's only defeats since the end of November have come against top-seven sides.

And the stats confirm the impact Vieira has had.

Under Hodgson last year they finished 14th. Under Vieira they are targeting a first top-ten finish since 2015 and a first FA Cup final triumph. A home draw with ailing Everton in the last eight is surely all they could have asked for.

Possession is up nine percent on last term, passing up five percent, they average 1.6 shots per game more and conceded 2.4 shots per game fewer. This is a very different Palace.

Good enough to test City's slickers?

They are numbers which suggest they will try, when the opportunity arises, to match City at Selhurst Park in the ultimate test on Monday night. At match odds of 10/1, however, it's widely accepted they won't pull it off, though the prices - City are 3/10 - are more reflective of how good City are rather than any obvious flaws with Palace.

Palace are certainly nicely rested – they've not been in action since winning 2-0 at Wolves on 5th March when Zaha grabbed his ninth of the season.

The winger also scored in the 2-0 win at City in October and there will be worse 14/1 first-scorer punts to be latched on to this season.

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