Crystal Palace's once-proud back line now struggling for confidence

If there's an overriding lesson to be learned from Crystal Palace's defeat to Swansea, it's that even a team with quality players can be affected by a loss of confidence, and that reduced confidence can have a viciously recurring theme. As defeats have piled up, so has the pressure on the players tasked with turning that form around.

Palace's players repeatedly lost their focus last week, especially defensively but also in terms of doing the basics. While Wilfried Zaha put Palace in the lead with a fantastic goal, the team appeared to revert to bad habits, delaying while in possession and ultimately playing itself into trouble. Where in the past players would get rid of the ball and regroup, now they overcomplicate the simple and as a result put themselves under more pressure.

Nowhere in the team is that pressure more obvious than in the back line. Fear has gripped the club's defenders. With every set piece, that grip is tightened; with every goal conceded, that fear is further compounded. What was once Palace's ace card is now the club's Achilles heel. While all other aspects of Palace's play have had a semblance of coherence, the minute a set piece is conceded that coherence disappears.

However, while Alan Pardew will undoubtedly focus on the back-line, much of the team's difficulty has come from other outfield players failing to do their defensive duties. The need for reorganisation goes deeper than just switching a few defenders about -- defending is a team effort and some players aren't playing their part.

Despite being a threat on Swansea's goal last weekend, Christian Benteke's defensive dereliction made him an even greater threat to Palace's own goal. The Eagles conceded two goals to Fernando Llorente -- a player Benteke had been tasked with marking.

Questions do have to be asked of the coaching -- Pardew bears overall responsibility, but the club's defensive and set piece coach Keith Millen appears to have avoided the kind of criticism aimed at the manager. Millen played a significant role in building Palace's defensive strength in previous seasons -- but this season that organised approach has completely dissipated.

Palace certainly lack defensive strength. The loss of Pape Souare early in the season due to a car crash hasn't helped, but even prior to that there was a lack of depth in Palace's back line. Martin Kelly, the makeshift left-back who has been the victim of repeated targeting by opponents, has arguably suffered the most.

At a point where the player should have been taken out of the firing line a few weeks ago, Millen and Pardew persisted in picking him because it was clear that there wasn't another option in that position -- the result being that Kelly has visibly struggled with the pressure he's been put under.

One alternative would be to switch Kelly and Joel Ward's responsibilities. Under Tony Pulis, who for all his misgivings certainly knew how to coach a defensive unit, Palace did just that to positive effect. It arguably means that Palace lose some of Ward's speciality at right-back, but even as a temporary measure it might help to arrest some of the squad's defensive fragility and rebuild the confidence which has been decaying over the last month.

Pardew told the press in the aftermath of the Swansea capitulation that changes would be made. While options are limited it's likely to mean that Damien Delaney will make a return to the side.

The Irish centre-back is in the twilight of his career, with James Tomkins signed during the summer as a long-term replacement, but his organisation and vocal guidance of teammates has been lacking in the last month.

In midfield, Palace will likely persist with James McArthur, Yohan Cabaye and Jason Puncheon in midfield.

Meanwhile in attack, Palace should play its strongest card; Pardew must find a way to fit Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha into the same team. Whether it's a case of intermittently switching both players, or insisting that Townsend accepts his role on the left wing, it's unfathomable that the club could spend £13m on a player only to leave him on the bench. They'll flank Benteke, who is now Palace's only fit goal threat following the long-term injury to Connor Wickham.

Whoever plays against a flying Southampton side, there will need to be a focus on doing the basics right. It's imperative that Palace find an alternative way to rebuild foundations. Persisting with the same approach of the last month will just further decay the confidence of an already-collapsing unit.