David Preece: Patrick van Aanholt never seemed to know where he should be '“ Bryan Oviedo will be better full-back

No sooner are you clinking glasses on New Year's Eve and telling each other you can't believe how quickly the year has gone, than you are asking yourself 'Is it February already?'. There's no getting away from it. It is.

Thursday, 2nd February 2017, 11:44 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd February 2017, 11:46 am
Patrick van Aanholt in his new Crystal Palace colours

We’re in countdown territory now.

You can just hear the first few bars of the the famous music as the hand of the clock returns to the centre. Panic’s setting in.

For the first time this season, I looked for other results rather than ours.

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That’s the tell-tale sign we’re into the critical part of the season. It isn’t just about every point won being important, it’s about every point dropped by others being just as crucial.

In fact, as Tuesday night proved, the results of others even detract from your own result and performance.

Ordinarily, a draw and a clean sheet against Spurs would be cause for a nice bottle of red to be drawn from the wine rack in David Moyes’s office and savoured as a point well-earned.

Until you pick up your phone and open the Sky Sports Score Centre app on your phone.

“Watford beat Arsenal? Swansea won? Palace as well? Boro picked up another point?”.

That point gained has suddenly turned into two lost and it takes a Pollyanna of the highest order not to feel like the world is against us.

I spoke last week of every team above us having more cause for optimism than Sunderland but the past seven days have brought us something to grip on to.

I have an unhealthy dislike for the term “no-brainer” but that’s exactly what Patrick van Aanholt’s departure to Crystal Palace was for me.

Despite the perception he was some kind of Roberto Carlos, I was never convinced by him.

I always got the sense he was never quite sure where he should be, so he just ran forward to see what would happen.

That’s great when you’re dominating possession, but the holes that were left by that marauding style were often exploited by the opposition.

The role of the full-back has become hugely important in modern football. They have become huge assets in attacking play since traditional wide men strayed from the cliched “chalk on the heels” position, became ambiguous forwards and drifted inside between the static lines of the opposition.

It became prevalent at the Euros of 2008 in Austria and Switzerland where every team’s attacking threat came from wide defensive areas.

But at a cost.

Van Aanholt just doesn’t have great defensive instincts and this was typified for me by Darren Fletcher’s goal at the Hawthorns a couple of weeks ago.

Van Aanholt can see Fletcher in front of him as the ball is bouncing around the edge of the box but not once does he think of getting close to him.

As the ball is lobbed to Fletcher, van Aanholt even takes a step back away from him, which allows the West Brom midfielder to control the ball with his chest, swivel and volley home.

If van Aanholt senses the danger, he gets tight to Fletcher and stop what looks all to easy a finish. It’s passive defending, hich is a bit of an oxymoron because passive defending isn’t defending at all.

Failure to prise Leonardo Ulloa away from Leicester was a big blow though. He’d have brought more than just the physical presence needed in the side but the two signings who came in from Everton fill previous voids too.

Since moving back from Denmark, I’ve stayed an avid watcher of their football and Bryan Oviedo was someone I’d seen a fair bit of at FC Copenhagen before he moved to Everton.

He’ll provide an attacking threat from wide areas but with more of a balance going the other way.

Set-pieces have improved since the return of Seb Larsson but Oviedo delivers as accurate an inswinging corner as I’ve seen and when goals are thin on the ground, it can be a valuable weapon if used in combination with a run across the near post for someone like Lamine Kone.

The centre of midfield has lacked shape and composure this season. The positional stability that Cattermole and Kirchhoff give you has been sorely missed and Darron Gibson coming in adds more experience to the energy Didier Ndong brings.

I’m not going to kid myself that that a couple of new faces who are both short of football in the last few years are the answer to everything but it was important that they were brought in.

Competition for places is never a bad thing and if all Lescott, Oviedo and Gibson do is make others around them raise their game, it will have been a worthy exercise.