Crystal Palace Season Preview

palaceThe Football Lab spoke to Crystal Palace fan @tweetingnav ahead of the new season. Here, he discusses the importance of midfielder Mile Jedinak, the dramatic improvements under Tony Pulis, and how the team’s reactive setup has limited the number of chances for strikers.

When Tony Pulis came in, Crystal Palace looked destined for relegation, but he guided the team to 11th place. Did he deserve to be Manager of the Season?

He certainly did. He took over the same position as Redknapp took over QPR the previous season, and we all know how that ended. It was a stunning achievement to stay up with that squad.

You only conceded 27 goals in 26 games under Pulis, while the likes of Fulham and Cardiff shipped goals and went down. Is a solid defence key to survival?

Definitely. Teams down the bottom are never going to be free scorers. So the key is to always stay in games. 38 0-0 draws keeps you up, so drawing a game 0-0 is no bad thing. Nick a few wins and you are set. But you need a solid base from which to attack. And we were not overly defensive by any means. We had a solid bank of 4 at the back, protected by Jedinak. But around him we had pace and skill out wide, Chamakh acting as a pivot in a deeper role and Jerome working defenders hard. Proper teamwork and spirit is essential to survival.

When in the Championship, the club produced some very good players from the youth academy. Does the fact that 8 youngsters have been released, suggest this will now be a time for short-termism?

The released kids would have been so even if we had stayed in the Championship. We have a good academy, but many of the players who will eventually be good enough for the team are currently too young and also not better than the players that are in the team. This is a crucial year for Jonny Williams – and I think the next batch of kids will start pushing towards the end of this coming season. Hiram Boateng, in particular, looks a Pulis type player.

Goalkeeper Julian Speroni has extended his contract, in preparation for an eleventh season at Selhurst Park. As a fan, do you appreciate his loyalty to the club?

He is a legend for Palace. He stayed despite a difficult first 3 seasons in which he hardly played and was 4th choice at one point. But he hit back with a bang, winning three consecutive POTY awards and he just won his fourth. He’s an excellent shot stopper and under Pulis his game has developed in terms of commanding his area, which was always a weak point. Thankfully, this improvement has come at the age of 35 so we can keep hold of him!

Last season, goalkeeper Chris Kettings played on loan at Hyde United, a relegated Conference club notorious for its self-deprecating Twitter account. Does this seem a strange signing?

Not really – a player who doesn’t need to be in the named 25, is young and is worth taking a punt on. Pulis is a good judge of a goalkeeper so as a fan, it seems a risk free signing. He will be 3rd/4th choice at best in any case.

Joel Ward was at times asked to play at right-back and left-back last season, and was equally impressive in both positions. How useful a player is he?

Not forgetting he played a fair number of games in central midfield as well. He took to the Premier League like a duck to water and though he made a few mistakes, he got stronger as the season went on. Many Palace fans believe he should be playing for England and while I do not think he is there yet, if he continues his improvement he deserves to be talked about in that bracket.

According to Who Scored, Mile Jedinak is the only midfielder to have played every minute of every game, up until the final match of the season. Is this justified by the tenacity he brings to the side?

His presence in the side is a must – he is a proper captain, leads by example and drives the players around him on. He will be off to play in the Asia Cup in the middle of the season and will be massively missed by the team.

Attacking midfielder Jason Puncheon seemed to have a very good season. Would you agree that he’s your best attacking player?

We are very much a team and it is hard to single out a player. Puncheon is very good, rarely wastes the ball and can hold onto it. But it’s hard to say he was our best attacking player. Bolasie doesn’t have the stats to match him, but was very much a key threat with his pace and trickery. Chamakh though, was our best attacking player – he held the attack together and all of our best moves went through him. He didn’t play up front, he mainly played deeper and was very effective.

Puncheon was also your joint top scorer, alongside Dwight Gayle, with 7 goals. Is this a reflection on the lack of quality up front?

And four of Gayle’s came in the last 100 minutes of the season! Forwards are only as good as their supply. I wouldn’t say we had a lack of quality, but the team was set up to absorb pressure and counter. That is not conducive to a lot of chances being created and so it’s harsh to judge the forwards. You look throughout the Premier League, teams need contributions from throughout the team.

With most bookmakers, Crystal Palace are at around 11/4 for relegation. Where will you finish?

Hard to say before the Transfer Window closes. Currently we will be struggling as we’ve not strengthened the squad, but ask me again in September!

TFL Verdict

Tony Pulis will continue to work his magic at Selhurst Park. The way Crystal Palace are organised, they will stay up comfortably yet again. 12th