Survival specialist Allardyce making his mark at Palace
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
With his brief and humiliating experience as coach of England's national team behind him, Sam Allardyce is back on familiar ground in the Premier League and doing what he does best: Turning around the fortunes of a struggling team.
'Big Sam', as he is known in football circles, is a master at keeping clubs in the Premier League, so it was no surprise that Crystal Palace turned to him late last year as the south London club plunged towards the relegation zone.
He made a slow start to life at Palace, but results over the last month have been typical of Allardyce: Three games, three gritty performances, three clean sheets and most importantly three wins.
Palace have pulled four points clear of the bottom three.
Another team saved by Allardyce? Not quite, but he certainly has Palace the worst-performing team in all four professional leagues of English football in 2016 heading in the right direction.
BACK TO BASICS
The pragmatic, no-nonsense manager has done that by getting back to basics, starting at the back where Palace was extremely shaky under previous manager Alan Pardew.
Fortunately, Allardyce had a transfer window to shake up the squad and two signings are starting to prove their worth.
France centre back Mamadou Sakho was brought in on loan from Liverpool, where he was out of the team because of fitness issues and after getting a provisional ban for a failed doping test that was later dismissed by UEFA. Sakho has slotted into a newly formed five-man defence and Palace hasn't conceded a goal with him in the team.
Luka Milivojevic, a holding midfielder from Serbia, joined from Olympiakos and has been stationed in front of the defence for the wins over Middlesbrough (1-0), West Bromwich Albion (2-0) and Watford (1-0), offering great protection.
It hasn't been pretty, but Palace are grinding out crucial points.
The hard work might just be starting, though.
Tomorrow, Palace play at leaders Chelsea in the first game of a difficult 10-match run-in in the Premier League that includes trips to Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, as well as home games against Arsenal, Leicester and Tottenham.
That four-point cushion could come in very handy for Palace, who are 16th in the 20-team league.
Elsewhere, the future of manager Arsene Wenger and forward Alexis Sanchez are up in the air, and Arsenal are struggling for form on the field.
Arsenal's only wins in eight games since January have been against Premier League struggler Hull and non-league teams Sutton and Lincoln in the FA Cup.
The team has dropped to sixth in the league, six points behind fourth-place Liverpool, who occupies the final Champions League qualification spot. Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League every year since 1998.
With his latest deal due to expire at the end of this season, Wenger gave no new hints about his future plans yesterday, saying: "It's a subject that, at the moment, is not sorted completely out."
Liverpool have established a reputation under manager Juergen Klopp for playing well against the league's top sides and being less fluent against the rest.
So where do Everton fit in these days?
Everton have climbed to seventh in the standings after seven wins in its last 10 games and even has an outside shot at Champions League qualification.
Liverpool have not lost any of their last 13 Merseyside derbies since a 2-0 win for Everton in October 2010.