Crystal Palace can exceed expectation by avoiding mid-season slump
Crystal Palace were challenging the top four in December last year but fell away in 2016 to eventually finish a disappointing 15th.
Alan Pardew's men were also left heartbroken following defeat in the FA Cup final to Manchester United. A new season means fresh optimism, though, and the club broke their transfer record for the second season running with the £13 million capture of Andros Townsend from Newcastle.
Here's a look at what to expect from Pardew's men this season.
At a glance
A top half finish and another cup run would do the trick. Maybe even win it this time.
Premier League: 9th
FA Cup: Quarterfinals
League Cup: Final
Palace can arguably lay claim to having done some of the best transfer business so far this summer. At least they would if they had signed a proper striker by now but the three additions they have made so far have been widely acknowledged as very good signings indeed. Steve Mandanda arrives from Marseille having won Goalkeeper of the Year in Ligue 1 for the last four seasons and only some serious trolling from Alan Pardew will stop him starting the season as No. 1, in a position the Eagles need some consistency.
James Tomkins has been signed as a replacement for Damien Delaney and although at £10m he wasn't cheap (and was arguably overpriced) if he forms a decent partnership with Scott Dann at centre-back no one will be moaning about that fee. England winger Townsend is Palace's other arrival and is currently the club's most expensive-ever signing at £13m but Palace fans would be keen to see that price beaten on a world class striker (Christian Benteke perhaps?) before the window shuts.
Consistency is a problem. Palace finished 2015 fifth and then went on a terrible 14-game winless league run for the first three months of 2016 to slide dangerously close to the relegation places. Many fans are still scratching their heads at how a season managed to swing from so great to so bad while still managing to somehow make the FA Cup final. One of the overriding factors of that run, and a theme of all of the the past three Premier League seasons for the Eagles, was the home form. None of the four managers they have had in that time have been able to really make Selhurst Park a fortress in terms of points, even though the Palace fans have certainly made it a fortress when it comes to noise.
Pardew's side seem to play with more freedom away from home, but if they really want to become a team that seriously competes for Europe they need to sort that out. And scoring goals would help. Dwight Gayle left for Newcastle for £10m last month, but he was the Eagles' top league goalscorer in each of the last three seasons and didn't hit double figures in any. Currently the only recognised strikers at the club are Connor Wickham and Fraizer Campbell and that doesn't fill many Palace fans with confidence.
Well, they could go down but then so could anyone really. Palace start their fourth consecutive top flight season this month and that equals a club record. If they manage to avoid relegation come May they will make it a record five and this could arguably be their most successful period ever as a club. There aren't really that many people talking about the Eagles in the relegation mix but in the Premier League nothing is certain and that horrible 14-game winless run at the start of 2016 which saw Pardew's side slide down from fifth to 17th is proof of that.
Nearly every team in the top flight has strengthened significantly so it will be a very competitive league indeed. But even though everyone is looking up and not down at Selhurst Park, if Palace don't start the season strongly like they did last season they may find themselves in trouble. Especially when it comes to the fixtures in April and May; Pardew's men face Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City in the final two months of the season and will be hoping they are well clear of the drop when that run roles around.
One to watch
To be honest looking through the probable Palace first-team it's hard to pick out a player who will have a breakthrough season, but James McArthur could fit the bill. The likes of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha are well known and the latter was voted the club's Player of the Year, but both could do with adding more consistency to their game. Jason Puncheon and Yohan Cabaye both have undoubted quality but had periods during the season where they struggled to make an impact.
McArthur is consistent and if it hadn't been for a serious ankle ligament injury sustained at the start of February the Scottish midfielder may have pipped Zaha to that POTY award. He rarely grabs the headlines and for some reason is not a regular in the Scotland team but is a vastly important cog in the Palace midfield. He does everything well and without him the team does seem to be missing something. If he can avoid injury again he could be key to the Eagles pushing on into a top half finish again.