Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace
Lessons from last season
To quote the great philosophers S Club 7: "Reach for the stars." Palace can be as good as they want to be this coming season as long as they apply themselves. This is basically a verbatim copy of all of my school reports, but while I coasted along for the next 15 years in a blur of "Football Manager" and takeaway food, Palace really have the chance to solidify a place in the Premier League. Last season's mantra was that anything is possible, no matter how dire things look. That same lesson can be applied to this campaign, but they need to remember that while anything is possible, that also includes relegation. Survive this "second season syndrome" and the world is Palace's oyster.
Predicted starting lineup
Not much! Only three signings so far, and only two of them likely to start -- Fraizer Campbell from Cardiff for 800,000 pounds and Brede Hangeland on a free from Fulham. Not the sexiest of signings but both experienced in the top flight and for less than a million you can't really complain. The other is a keeper from Blackpool called Chris Kettings whom no one really knows anything about. We're not even entirely sure he exists. It means Palace are slightly to blame for Blackpool's current plight of only having a handful of players. Sorry, chaps!
Speaking of goalkeepers, there is likely to be a new face in between the sticks this season and it won't be Kettings. Wayne Hennessey joined from Wolves in January but was kept out of the team by fan favourite Julian Speroni. But despite going on to win a record fourth player of the year award, Speroni's time at the club is numbered: Pulis wants Hennessey as his No. 1. Speroni still has plenty of years left in him at only 34, I'm sure of that, but it probably won't be at Palace, sadly. He does own a very nice restaurant in South London, though, so there is that.
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Defence. Palace don't concede many; just seven in 10 games in the final stretch of last season, a run that kept the team in the Premier League. Palace -- in typical Tony Pulis style -- are very hard to beat. Hard to break down. Hard to play against. Especially at Selhurst. Their game is built on stopping the opposition and hitting them on the break. The stats back this up. Towards the end of the season Joel Ward had made the seventh-highest number of tackles IN EUROPE, and Mile Jedinak regularly topped the charts for blocks and headers. It ain't the prettiest, but it does a job. And right now doing the job is the most important thing. Once Palace have survived in the top flight for a few seasons the pretty stuff can come.
Scoring goals. Last season Dwight Gayle and Jason Puncheon shared top-scorer honours with just seven apiece, and it seemed Gayle only played like five minutes or something. And most of that was against Liverpool. The hope is that Palace might try to play a bit more expansively this season and not rely so much on the breakaway style of last campaign. But playing more open, pretty football doesn't necessarily guarantee goals. And actually, a tight, counterattacking game can still be entertaining. Palace were at their most entertaining last season when they were working hard to contain teams and then hit them on the break. To be honest, if it works for you, then fair enough. And if it keeps Palace in the top flight for another season then there won't be a single fan in SE25 complaining.
Manager - ESPN FC profile
Tony Pulis. He is the most popular man in South London at the moment. In a few years' time I expect there to be a flurry of young boys named Tony in South London, such has been the Welshman's impact. He was the perfect man to take over last season and is the perfect manager to have in charge for the "difficult second season." He brought out a bullish side in the team that helped them rise up the league and I expect Palace to be as confident, if not more, this season. And that will be down to Pulis. He's bought himself so much time and respect for his efforts last year that even a rubbish transfer window would be forgiven. He's just what the club needed, and I hope he sticks around.
Marouane Chamakh. All the stats would point to someone like Jedinak for his topping-the-block-and-tackle charts awesomeness, or Puncheon who gobbled up the most fantasy football points thanks to his glut of goals towards the end of the season. But actually it's Chamakh who makes things tick. Since being moved to that slightly deeper role behind the striker he's had far more of an influence on the team, and it's very obvious that he is missed when he's not there. Yes, his hair is terrible, but I can forgive that because he brings so much to the team. And to think, we got him on a free! Non-Palace fans probably won't understand that because they saw him struggle at Arsenal, but I think he's found a place where he's happy, and Palace fans couldn't be happier too.
Predicted finish: 15th
The expectation for 99 percent of Palace fans this season is just to survive again. They would take 17th place on goal difference. For the club to stay in the Premier League for a third consecutive season would signal huge strides forward. Palace can then start to build and become a genuine, normal top-flight team. People are already talking about the Eagles like it's just accepted they are in the Premier League and going to stay up. This is still a crazy concept for me. But there's a real chance for the club to establish themselves. The bookies will suggest Palace will finish 11th-13th again. I reckon it will be more like 15th, but as long as they stay up, I don't care.