Palace and Pulis … Pulis and Palace. The fate of no other top-flight side seems so closely linked to their manager as Palaces. Sitting in the bottom three – with four points from their first 11 games – Pulis took over a side seemingly heading for the Championship but managed to instantly transform the team and subsequently their season.
The turnaround was built defensive solidarity; only five teams – Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal – conceded fewer than Palace’s 46 goals last season. Palace had a fantastic work ethic and togetherness, typical traits of any Pulis side and finished the season in 11th place, earning the Palace manager the Premier League Manager of the Year award. It’s unfair to give all the credit to the manager, players such as Jedinak, Ward, Puncheon and others proved themselves worthy of the Premiership, but it was the managers organisational skills that kept them in the league.
Another bright light was the fans, Selhurst Park was probably the most atmospheric stadium in the league. The Palace fans were a joy to behold; they also represented the team well on their travels. Away days such as Newcastle will live long in the memory of all in attendance.
This season should see more of the same from Palace; they will again be hard to beat, especially at home in front of their wonderful fans. The worry is obviously their lack of goals, but if they can add some attacking talent and not lose any players before the window closes then their fans can dream of a top-10 finish and possibly a cup run – Pulis did take Stoke to the Cup final – but realistically the majority will be happy with a 17th place finish.
Last season: 11th
Ins: Frazier Campbell (£900,000, Cardiff), Chris Kettings (Undisclosed, Blackpool)
Outs: Jose Campana (Undisclosed, Sampdoria), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Free, Cardiff), Danny Gabbidon, Dean Moxey, Aaron Wilbraham and Jonathan Parr (all released)
Unfortunately very little at the time of writing, Palace have, thus-far, been frustrated in the transfer market. They have signed Frazier Campbell from Cardiff, but the 26 year old only managed 9 goals last season, and whilst he does have the potential to score more, Palace will need additional attacking talent if they are going to score more than the meagre 33 goals they got last term.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was approached, but he opted to join Swansea, so Pulis will be forced to look further down his ‘wanted list’ for attacking midfielders. Pulis also wants another centre back, with Michael Dawson linked.
One thing that is new is second season in the Premier League, Palace have never had one. There is a worry about ‘second season syndrome’ affecting them, but only a slight one. Sufferers of a poor second season tend to be ones that: a) lose key players, or (b) get found out.
Palace have not lost any of their top performers thus far, and their survival was not based on one “star” anyway. It was based on their teamwork and work ethic so whilst they don’t want to lose anyone, they could probably still stay up minus one or two. As for them “getting found out”, well it is a worry for Palace, but less so for them than other teams. We know Palace will play a similar style to last season, but what is there to find out about them? Pulis has been setting teams up this way for years and nobody has found an easy way to beat them.
Palace relied on several key players last season: Speroni, Dann, Delaney, Jedinak, Puncheon…I could go on, in fact it’s tough picking one key player in a squad whose success is built on teamwork, but this season I think Yannick Bolasie could emerge as Palace’s key man. The 25 year old winger has bags of pace, lots of trickery and proved last season that he can destroy any team when he puts it all together (most notably in the 3-3 draw with Liverpool).
Last season he completed an average of 2.6 dribbles per match, placing him in the league’s top-five dribblers. If he can add consistency to his game and produce consistent end-product to match his build up play, he could be one of the most of exciting in the league, never mind South London.
One to watch
Jonny Williams – the diminutive Welsh attacking midfielder / winger was linked to a £10 million move to Arsenal a couple of seasons back. He was a bright light during Palace’s promotion season – earning a call up to the Wales squad – but struggled to make the step up to the Premiership last season and was eventually sent on loan to Ipswich.
He had looked lively in pre-season before a thigh injury in the 2-2 draw with Columbus saw him miss the last two games of Palace’s American tour. Unfortunately injuries have not been kind to the youngster; he broke his leg whilst playing for the Welsh under-21 side in 2011.
He recovered sufficiently to win Palace’s Young Player of the Year award for the 2012–13 season and hopes are high around Selhurst Park that he is now ready to make the step up and become a Premier League regular.
Every fan wants new players and the excitement that brings but the key to Palace’s success this season will not be the new, but the familiar: their home form, the wonderful fans, their solid defence and – of course – their manager. If Palace can keep all of these consistent to last season they should survive. October looks a key month, with home games against new boys Leicester and Burnley. Two wins there, whilst not essential, would certainly be aide their survival hopes. Basically more of the same. But a 16th place finish this year.
BPF Prediction: 15th