Crystal Palace Season Preview: new style

Until this summer’s appointment of Frank De Boer, Crystal Palace have tended to favour experienced, British managers with a reactive setup. Has that approach helped the club retain it’s Premier League status, or has it limited the skillset of the players? Supporter Jay Crame from highly recommended blog The Eagles Beak has his say.

It is clear that was the approach to life in the Premier League as soon as things did not go to plan in our first season back. You could add Ian Holloway to that list who got us back up after taking over from Dougie Freedman, himself a young inexperienced but promising manager (at the time). Thankfully, that approach which saw Pulis replace Holloway and Pardew and Allardyce after him kept us up each time, in one case finishing the highest we have in the top division in its current guise. Now it is time to evolve and while it was a shame to see Big Sam walk away after such an impact to keep us up, we have an exciting, new refreshing approach in the shape of Frank de Boer. It is about the right to take what may seem to be a gamble, and maybe it is just that but if the Dutchman can emulate his compatriot Ronald Koeman now at Everton then us Palace fans will be exceptionally happy.

Frank De Boer has very different ideas to the ones on which this squad has been built. Should the club have sought gradual evolution, rather than a manager who will demand a complete sea change in strategy?

Just like Big Sam, de Boer inherits a very good squad. New ideas are refreshing and as I eluded to in the previous question, it is what we need right now as we embark on a record fifth consecutive season in the Premier League. We have quality players at the club already that just need a few additions. The evolution that many have wanted to see has happened with many of players the fringe players at the club when we returned to the top flight having gone. That means there is capacity to not only strengthen the first eleven, but the squad too. Remember, the majority of these players are seasoned international footballers who should be comfortable with a change in approach and/or formation. Allardyce made a number of changes when he arrived which took time to implement but that is often the case when a new boss takes over during a season. At least de Boer has the summer and pre-season to get his ideas across.

Christian Benteke had the most aerial attempts (49) in the Premier League last season and seven of his 15 goals were headers. Will he suffer from this likely change of tactics?

The problem with Benteke is that his size suggests that you have to pump balls to him in the air. Yes, he is great in the air, as you would expect for a man of his stature, but equally he is very good with the ball. There were times last season we were caught pumping balls in the air to him to either attack or hold up when there is so much more to his game. That supply to him got better as the season went on thankfully but there is no doubt de Boer will want to play to his strengths being the focal point of the attack.

Wilfried Zaha had arguably the best season of his career last term. How important are him and Andros Townsend to your attacking play?

Wilf was truly back to his best last season. In fact, it was arguably the best we have seen of him. He suffered a huge setback with his move to United, being signed by Sir Alex Ferguson before David Moyes took over and he clearly was not his kind of player. Had Sir Alex stayed another season, Zaha would have been a huge success at Old Trafford and a regular in the England team. Thankfully for us, we now have him back doing what he does best, frustrating the opposing players and fans come to that! He is much maligned by those that do not see him week in week out. Never gets the protection her deserves but de Boer has paid him the ultimate tribute by naming him as the player we should build a team around.

Wilf is hugely important while Townsend on the other side can be just as effective but in his own style. He struggled to settle and the first half of last season many fans wondered why he was keeping a place in the side but as soon as Allardyce was appointed he was superb. Not many teams play with two wide men these days and it’s a joy to see both players in full flow. They will likely be key to a successful season if de Boer uses them both in that capacity.

One key signing that Sam Allardyce made was holding midfielder Luka Milivojevic. He seems to patrol things just in front of the back-four…

A quite superb addition in the January transfer window, it has been a time in the season where we have had a lot of success in terms of signings where other clubs seem to panic. It says a lot when the fans had their own chant for him long before the season ended. He has already become a favourite at Selhurst and rightly so. That kind of player that fans have always been able to resonate with, the enforcer in the middle of the park, superbly protecting the back line and watch him sticking up for Zaha this season too should he get the expected treatment!

Partnering Milivojevic could be Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Are you excited to see what he could do with a run of games?

I do not envisage Loftus-Cheek will start the season but I am excited to see what he can do. He is a real upgrade on some of the fringe midfielders we have at the club and however much I hate to say it, he is an upgrade on the likes of Joe Ledley and Jordan Mutch while likely putting James McArthur behind him too. We are all hoping that he is more successful that the last two Chelsea loanees at Palace – Patrick Bamford and Loic Remy. That won’t be hard though unfortunately!

Loftus-Cheek is your only signing at the time of writing. Given the scale of the transition you’re undertaking, would you have preferred to do business early?

This is always an odd time with so many transfer rumours and huge amount of transfer fees being thrown around. Palace is a club, like many other in the top division, that still have to cut their cloth accordingly. A season long loan to Loftus-Cheek is very good business. He is very highly rated by Chelsea and their fans, one of very few young players at the club who has yet to spend any time on loan. I am expecting more signings, at the time of writing the addition of Dutch centre back Jairo Riedewald. That is a wonderful signing, a 20 year old from Ajax on a five year deal that has worked with de Boer before and only for a reported £7.5million.

Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, right-back Joel Ward and centre-back Damien Delaney were near the top of statistics for most number of inaccurate long balls last season. Are additions needed at the back?

The position between the sticks is a big cause for concern. I don’t like to berate players at all but we need an upgrade in that area as Hennessey does not seem to give anyone any real confidence in him. Yes, he has made some great saves but he has made more mistakes but it is a position that is you make an error, it is highlighted ten-fold. A striker misses a chance on goal and it’s never picked up on quite so much as a goalkeeping error. Joel Ward needs competition for the right back slot having been the sole occupying barring injury the last few seasons while Damien Delaney is not getting any younger and expecting him to be a squad player this season particularly Riedewald has arrived..

Jeffrey Schlupp and Patrick Van Aanholt are two energetic players who like to get forward. Could they suit a left wing-back role if there’s a system change?

From struggling with the left back slot for a considerable amount of time we have three players vying for that position. While van Aanholt is the expected left back, you cannot forget about Pape Souare who suffered season ending injuries in a horrific road traffic accident early on last season, hopefully not career ending either. Schlupp is one of those players where you struggle to see which is his true position so will likely be that valuable asset from the bench, a player that all managers much like having. His speed is a real asset though which he showed a number of times last season.

Palace aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole?

We are at the stage where we are all just itching to get on with it now especially as there is a World Cup to look forward at the end of it. That will no doubt have a huge effect on players wanting to excel for their club side. Domestically, it promises to be an exciting season with new faces both in the shape of the promoted clubs and plenty of new signings to see if they can cut it in what is arguably the best league in Europe, if not the World. The problem is, there is a feeling that the triumph for Leicester has made it so much harder for clubs like us to finish anywhere near the top of the table with the top six clubs in the country closing ranks last season. Only realistically, Everton could break that up but it would be nice to see a surprise somewhere.

Where will you finish?

Such a difficult question to answer particularly with a new manager, particularly to the Premier League and without doubt our activity in the transfer market not yet over. However, I’m going to be positive and suggest that we will not see a season like the last one, much more consistency even if it may take a few games for de Boer to get his ideas across, which hopefully he has already made good progress with before the big kick off. I will plump with a solid 12th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

In appointing De Boer, it is clear that Crystal Palace are changing their approach, but limited pre-August activity means they have a squad built in the image of his predecessors. With old-school defenders, quick wide men and a target man in Benteke that likes early balls forward, the new strategy may not suit the players available. 18th

Click above to join our league in The Telegraph Fantasy Football