Being a football hipster is serious business with knowledge about the young starlet making waves for a non-mainstream mid table side often a prerequisite rather than a feather in the cap. To further enhance your, perhaps, burgeoning reputation as a true hipster, Outside of the Boot is on hand to provide an in-depth guide to some of the less celebrated teams around Europe. In this edition of the series, Rahul Warrier turns his gaze towards Crystal Palace.
THE PREVIOUS CAMPAIGN
2015-16 was an interesting season for the Eagles. They started off well, raising hopes of a challenge for the European spots, before sinking badly enough to flirt with relegation. They managed to stave off that threat though. Throw in a FA Cup run that ended at Wembley, and you have a season of extremes. That has its positives and negatives.
Palace started off strongly last year, finishing 2015 in 5th place from the first 19 games. They then embarked on a 12-game winless streak (with 9 losses) that sunk any hopes of European football before it had materialised. They were fortunate to stay up in the Premier League, carried by their early-season form. 15th place and only 5 points away from safety fails to convey the story of their season. It was a missed opportunity, but one that has spurred the club to action this summer.
The League Cup adventure ended in the 4th round with a shellacking from Man City (a 5-1 defeat), but the highlight of their season was hands down their FA Cup run. Neutrals were disappointed by Jesse Lingard’s extra time winner in the final, which also turned out to be Louis van Gaal’s last game in charge for Manchester United. The final will be remembered for Pardew’s now-infamous touchline jig upon Puncheon’s equalizer in normal time, but nevertheless it was a great run to Wembley. The fact fans were disappointed with survival and a FA Cup final spot shows how far the club has come, which is the glass half-full approach. A lost chance, but they’ve taken it strongly. The coming season looks intriguing for the Eagles.
Alan Pardew has had a controversial managerial history, with numerous confrontations, outbursts and some enemies in Newcastle. The former-Palace player who was famous in the terraces has been in charge of Reading, West Ham, Charlton, Southampton and Newcastle before taking over the reins at Palace. The 55-year old has done well so far at Palace (relatively), keeping them up in the half-season he had in 2014-15 (who realistically also kept up his previous club Newcastle in that season). He also did well for patches of last season, masterminding wins over Chelsea and Liverpool, but arguably shares the blame for the dismal form of early-2016. He also took Palace to the FA Cup final, though he’ll be keen to forget that game for the result and his poorly timed dance.
For all of his faults Pardew is a smart manager who is now at a club devoid of controversy. In his 3rd season now, Pardew is well-equipped to take Palace to further heights. If he doesn’t though, his job may be threatened. The pressure is off Pardew for now though, so with support from the board, Palace could be one of the teams to look out for this season.
The 4-2-3-1 has been the formation of choice at Selhurst Park for most of last season. Pardew often preferred to have men behind the ball, and such a formation maximizes the main strength of their side: their wingers. Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha are talented, skillful wingers who’re not afraid to take on the man and cross the ball in. In that regard, it is no wonder why Palace are interested in the targetman Christian Benteke, who can be lethal in the right system. Connor Wickham, while a talented young player, is not clinical and strong enough to be the goalscorer Palace need to move up a notch.
Pardew drew criticism last season for his inability to come up with a Plan B; indeed his 4-2-3-1 shape either changed to a 4-3-3 or a rigid 4-4-2. However such a change in formation was not a ‘throw caution to the wind’ approach, but only minor alterations to the trusted 4 at the back solution. Over the course of the pre-season last month though, Palace attempted to try something new: 3 at the back. Assistant manager Keith Millen had conveyed as much in preseason regarding the potential alternative shape. The success of Italy and Wales in the Euros, defensively strong teams employing a 3 at the back formation, could indeed lead to such a shape coming into vogue in the upcoming season. Testing it out in pre-season suggests that Pardew and Millen have a 3-man defense down as a potential formation for this year, something which is encouraging enough.
It did not entirely work out though, as the side conceded the only 2 goals on tour with a 3-man defense. Delaney, Dann and Kelly formed the back 3, with Mutch and Fryers as untested wing-backs. While Palace clearly don’t have full-backs with the ability to withstand the rigours of the wing-back role, 3 at the back is certainly an option to be used in a one-off situation.
Apart from a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and the 4-4-2 employed last season. Palace were also seen lining up sporadically in a 4-1-4-1, 4-4-1-1 and a 4-5-1. The variety of formations used suggests that Pardew did have the tactical nous to try out something new; the lack of success of his many ‘Plan B’s’ led to criticism. This season though, Palace have had more time to analyse, and Pardew is likely to have something up his sleeve.
As said earlier, the 4-2-3-1 seems to be what the Eagles will start against West Brom. Mandanda will make his debut in goal, while the back 4 is likely to consist of Souare, Dann, Delaney/Tomkins and Ward. I expect the former West Ham centre-back to make his debut. Shielding the back 4 is likely to be Cabaye and McArthur, the duo which makes the team tick. Their partnership will be crucial to the team’s hopes. The attacking midfielders are in all probability going to be Townsend, Puncheon and Bolasie, however the real question is up front. The Palace faithful will be praying it will be the big Belgian Benteke who slots up front, or Berahino or if Christmas comes early, both. It is still likely to be Connor Wickham, at least for the first game. Tactically though a big striker up front will hugely benefit Palace, and so the club must press on for Benteke. It’s a decision that could reap dividends quickly.
TRANSFER MARKET ACTIVITY
Palace have shown great ambition this summer, linked with big-money moves for Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi (who eventually signed for Chelsea). They have been one of the early winners of the summer window, with three new players signing on the dotted line. Steve Mandanda, James Tomkins and Andros Townsend are the arrivals so far. Mandanda brings with him a wealth of experience and is an excellent custodian to have; a clear upgrade on Hennessey/McCarthy. Townsend is an interesting winger to have, and is a definite improvement to the side. Tomkins is English, fairly young and a solid centre-back who can cover at right-back. It’s a smart signing which plugs a gap in the side.
On the other side of transfer activity, the club have done well to clear the deadwood. Adebayor, Chamakh, Hangeland and Mariappa all found themselves released. The main departure was of Dwight Gayle. Gayle was never a first-team starter but managed to be the top-scorer in the last two seasons. His departure left most Palace fans rueful, but is best for the club going forward. The purchase of a new striker (Benteke, Berahino or someone else) will strengthen expectations of a top-10 finish this year.
THREE KEY PLAYERS
Scott Dann: The newly-appointed club captain has been a defensive rock since signing from Blackburn in Jan 2014. He’s grown from strength to strength and is highly under-rated in England. He has a chance at making the next England squad under Allardyce. Palace have a strong defense and that is primarily down to down to the Merseyside native. He’s the first name on the team sheet and the best performing player at the club. He also turns up against big opposition (Chelsea, Liverpool) and chips in with the odd goal too. If Dann can keep his consistency going, Palace will be defensively strong.
Yohan Cabaye: Palace fans were overjoyed when the club announced the signing of French international Yohan Cabaye from giants PSG last season. It signaled a new era of ambition, in which Palace could offer the money to bring such quality to Selhurst Park. The Frenchman moved for regular football and he’s gotten it. Cabaye is indispensable to the side. He offers vision and the ability to thread balls through the gaps. His finishing and free-kick ability is one of his many assets. McArthur and Cabaye formed a strong midfield last season and are likely to reprise the same roles. Now 30, Cabaye is at his prime and he can carry Palace to a top-10 finish in the coming season if his quality comes through consistently.
Yannick Bolasie: The Congolese national has emerged as one of the club’s best players in recent years. Bolasie is the best winger at the club and his dribbling makes him one of the best in the league in that department. He displays an array of skills, unveiling a range of stepovers and flicks, including one named the ‘Bolasie 360 flick’. He likes to play short passes and is best with the ball at his feet. He also possesses a burst of acceleration which can make him a nightmarish prospect for opposition fullbacks. Bolasie will benefit if a targetman is signed this season, which may mean more assists for him. He’s an integral part of this team going ahead.
TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYER
Sullay Kaikai: Palace has some young and intriguing players, including the likes of Hiram Boateng, Luke Dreher and Freddie Ladapo, but the most interesting and exciting youngster is Sullay Kaikai. The tricky winger scored in his Palace debut in September 2014 and has spent time at Crawley Town, Cambridge United (where he won the Best Young Player of the Year Award) and most recently at League One outfit Shrewsbury Town, where he top-scored with 12 goals in 26 appearances. Kaikai has a good first touch on him and his pace and directness can make him a valuable ‘super sub’ who could decide tight games. Whether he is loaned out again remains to be seen but this year could be the youngster’s breakthrough season. Palace fans will be excited to watch the 20-year-old’s progress in the coming year.
CONCLUSION AND EXPECTATION
The rate of inflation of the market means that Palace are finding it tougher to find value for money in their search for a shiny, new striker. They were caught out last season with a lack of depth, and that mistake must not be repeated again. As the window progresses prices will only increase. It’s thus now or never for the board to splash the money on Benteke or Berahino, before the season starts. It’s a decision that could make or break the season.
On pitch, Palace will hope to break into the top 10 of the PL. It’s not easy in a league that has gotten tougher this year, but they will draw inspiration from Leicester’s stunning triumph last year. “If they can do it, why can’t we?”, must be the sentiment around Selhurst Park, but the first port of call is further investment into the squad, and then to reach the 40-point mark. If they can reach there early enough, the sky is the limit for the Eagles.
Written by Rahul Warrier
Read all our 2016-17 Hipster Guide articles here.
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