This season has seen Crystal Palace’s best ever start to a Premier League season, earning nineteen points from their first thirteen games and sit in a very respectable 10th place.
Since Pardew’s arrival, the team seems to have improved on a week-to-week basis. This can be seen in their wins away at Chelsea and Liverpool this season and some impressive displays, even in defeat, throughout 2015. Their stability at the back has been based on a rock solid foundation of Scott Dann and Damien Delaney who are ever presents for their side. Wayne Hennessey has found form in goal after Wales’ successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, whilst up front, the pace and creativity of Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako are a joy to behold. When you add in Yohan Cabaye’s sumptuous passing and set pieces, you have a real recipe for success. I am just left wondering one thing, though. How high can Crystal Palace rise?
When Tony Pulis left the side on the eve of the 2014/15 season, it was a shock to all and it left the club in a tough spot following his fantastic nine months at the helm. During that time he won twelve of his twenty-eight games, losing eleven and drawing five. However, the style of play that the team developed was much improved and it came with some wonderful results, notably the 3-3 draw to end Liverpool’s title hopes at Selhurst Park.
Neil Warnock came in for his second stint as manager of the south London club and it was as underwhelming as his first attempt. The appointment may have come as a shock to fans; the manager had parted ways with the club after a ten point deduction in 2010, due to financial problems, saw the Eagles firmly in the relegation battle. The manager told the administrators that he did not have the ‘stomach’ for the fight to save the club. Palace survived on the final day and had they not, the club could have taken a completely different trajectory.
The poor run of form seen by Warnock’s side ended in his dismissal on the 27th December. It was not until January 2nd when Alan Pardew was named as his successor. At the time, it seemed a strange decision for the then Newcastle boss. The Magpies were flying high in the league whilst the Eagles were swooping down in the relegation zone. Of course, as a former player, he was a fan favourite already whereas on Tyneside, he was not appreciated for most of his spell.
The tide turned for Crystal Palace as they began an upshot in form which resulted in the team soaring to new heights and ended up finishing in the top half, just. In the summer of 2015, the team added big money signings Yohan Cabaye from PSG and a surprisingly large fee for Connor Wickham from Sunderland. Bakary Sako was a coup, joining on a free whilst 14/15 Championship Player of the Year, Patrick Bamford, joined on loan from champions Chelsea. These signings have helped transform the side from low to mid-table regulars into real top half contenders.
Unfortunately for Palace fans, their man strikers have been missing through injury. Connor Wickham has only just recovered from an injury sustained early in the season, whilst Dwight Gayle is expected back for the Newcastle game on November 28th. Bakary Sako is also a doubt for that fixture. It seems odd that Bamford has not seen more game time, given the injuries. He has only taken to the field four times as a substitute racking up a whopping 74 minutes of first team action. It is always nice to see young English players given the chance and in Palace’s situation, Bamford could definitely do a job. He is a proven goalscorer, netting 17 times in the Championship for Middlesbrough. Given Harry Kane’s meteoric rise, I see no reason why Bamford couldn’t do the same, given the right opportunities. The Chelsea youngster has threatened to cut his loan short because of the lack of opportunities he is getting.
One player who has been creating opportunities, however, is the midfield maestro Yohan Cabaye. Below you can see a comparison between him and some of the best central midfielders in the league.
As you can see, he is right up there with some of the best that the league has to offer. His interceptions have been vital for Crystal Palace’s fast counter attacking style and he is only bettered by Fabregas and Cazorla in key passes and chances created. His number of shots from inside the box displays his willingness to get forward and join the attack and it is no surprise he has scored four goals this season, despite a couple coming from the penalty spot. He is the club’s top scorer and is responsible for creating a lot of opportunities for his teammates as well. Jason Puncheon, though, is the leading chance creator and leads the team in assists. He has created 21 chances, two of which have ended up in the back of the net. Unfortunately, he has yet to score one of his own. Puncheon was one of the main players in the Tony Pulis reign and was scoring so often that some were speaking of a possible inclusion in the World Cup squad.
Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie are two more players who are always creating opportunities, either for themselves or others. Zaha leads the league for the number of dribbles, with 95, and has scored once while creating 16 chances for his teammates, similar to the numbers posted by Cabaye. Bolasie has scored twice but only created five chances for his teammates. If I was Premier League full-back I would be afraid to play against either of these two. They are both extremely fast and very direct, a potent combination given the right situations.
Scoring goals has been an issue, with only 14 goals in their 13 games. However, defensively, they have been fairly solid, conceding 13, an average of one per game. Dann and Delaney have been solid, whilst Martin Kelly at full-back has been just the same. Joel Ward on the other side has been great both defensively and offensively. Scoring the winner at Stamford Bridge, the right-back has scored more than most of the attacking line-up with two goals for the year so far.
How can they improve?
Obviously, they need a striker who is consistently going to score goals. It has cost them a couple of times this year already and I would really like to see Bamford given the chance to show his worth. Wickham and Gayle are back from injury now so I expect them to share minutes until one proves he is better than the other.
In the loss to Sunderland, they found themselves very susceptible on the counter attack. This was largely due to the central midfield duo, Cabaye and McArthur, getting caught too high up-field and at the same time leaving the defence wide open. A more disciplined holding midfielder would definitely not go amiss and Jedinak is getting a bit older and less effective than he was a couple of years ago. Joe Ledley is not your typical holding midfielder but he could do a job there. I am a big fan of Jordon Mutch but again, he is a bit more box to box than protector. It is a job that needs doing, especially with the rampant full-backs that are now a norm in the modern game. I think this would have to be a January signing in order to improve this area.
Aside from that, they have to make sure they can continue their good run of form, especially at home where they have only won three out of the last eleven Premier League matches, which is not good enough for any team. If they can improve their results at Selhurst Park, they can consolidate themselves as a top half team. I think that West Ham will fall off a significant amount and I expect Leicester to drop rapidly due to their run of fixtures until the new year. This gives Palace the perfect opportunity to put some more points on the board and catch up to the overachievers.
I think that at the end Palace will land around 9th or 10th. However, their continued improvements in performance will make them a much more attractive prospect for better players to come in the summer. Being in London, as well, gives them added pull and next season I would not be surprised to see them challenging for Europa League places.