When he's not running the excellent SBNation Colorado Rapids blog www.burgundywave.com, Chris White is an avid fan of Premier League new boys Crystal Palace, who edged promotion this year after a resurgent spell under tactical wizard and enduring soundbite merchant Ian Holloway. I caught up with him to discuss what his feelings are on a tie that kicks off a season about which both sets of fans are nervously optimistic.
EF: First and foremost, Kevin Phillips. On a scale of 9.5 to 10, how thrilled are you about getting to see Mr. Clinical in action for you for another year?
CW: I'm quite happy to see his return! Palace, at the moment, are a team that will likely struggle to score goals through pure skill, so they'll probably be turning to his particular brand of late magic more than once until they can finally get another striker or two on the squad. The jump from the Championship, where he scored six goals in 14 appearances for Palace last season, to the Prem probably won't hurt him too much, since his game is based on amazing instincts, great positioning and super finishing. His age might keep him to only 20 minutes.
EF: On a more serious note, how are you feeling about Crystal Palace's offseason so far? Do you feel confident at this stage that the side is ready for a Premier League campaign? Do you think Wilfried Zaha is an irreplaceable loss? And how much belief do you have in Ian Holloway's management?
CW: I'd personally replace the word 'serious' with 'somber' in that question. It's not been a fun off-season to watch. CPFC2010 made it clear that they were willing to spend at least a decent amount of money on the squad during the summer window, but they've been stymied by the fact that apparently, nobody wants to join the team. They've lost out on guys like Jonjo Shelvey to Swansea and Darren Bent to Fulham, and have instead had to settle for guys like Dwight Gayle, who's making the lofty jump from League One to the Premier League after Peterborough got relegated. (On the bright side, Palace aren't the Posh, who got relegated on the last day of the season by the Eagles and then lost one of their best strikers to them.)
The majority of the signings they've made have been either younger guys with potential like Gayle, not particularly what you look for when you're desperately trying to stay up, and lesser names that bigger teams have tossed out like Marouane Chamakh and Jerome Thomas. They've yet to sign a single PL quality center back, which is one of the more gaping holes on the roster. (Peter Ramage has the most experience of any central defenders on the roster, and while I like his game, he's hardly a star.) For a team that came into the window with a whole host of holes in the squad that needed to be filled, it's been quite frustrating to watch those holes get patched more with scotch tape than with glue.
On Zaha, he was a bit overrated last year. Though he'll almost certainly turn into an incredibly special talent, he's still so raw and inconsistent that I doubt he would have been a super game-changer for the Eagles this year. His technical ability will be tough to replace, but in terms of production there are other guys who can put up those numbers.
To be honest, if this team was being led by anyone other than Ian Holloway, I'd have already had Palace marked down as being relegated by Christmas. Holloway is a fantastic team leader, a smart tactician and a very good motivator, though. If there's anyone who will be able to make an emergency signing or two and keep this team up against all odds, I'd say it's him.
EF: How do you reckon Palace will adapt tactically to life in the Premier League if at all?
CW: Holloway has already made it pretty clear that he's not going to be going nearly as 'gung-ho' tactically with Palace as he did with Blackpool during his first time managing in the top flight. Back then, his side played a somewhat direct 4-3-3. This time around, you can probably expect him to keep the 'direct' part, but play something with a bit more of a defensive look formation-wise. Palace's strengths right now are in the center of midfield and on the wings, so you'll probably see some rather loaded midfields. Palace will not be a Swansea-esque guilty pleasure for other fans to watch.
EF: What is your favourite-ever memory from this tie in the past?
CW: I don't have one, sadly. I only started following non-MLS football, Palace specifically, in 2006, the year after their latest relegation. So, I've never actually witnessed the two teams playing! Looking it up, apparently Palace won 3-0 at Selhurst Park in their last meeting in 2005, so that one I guess.
EF: Moving onto the weekend, where do you see the key battles taking place in this game?
CW: The entire Spurs attack vs. Palace's central midfield. Like I said earlier, the Eagles' greatest strength is in the very center of the park where guys like Mile Jedinak, Johnny Williams and Stuart O'Keefe will be operating. Like I also said earlier, the center backs could be a problem, though. I expect to see at least two central midfielders -- Jedinak and O'Keefe, perhaps -- dropped very far back to keep Spurs from getting any chances at one-on-one runs right at a CB. If they can keep the Spurs attack out wide, they have the fullbacks and the height in the box to at least make it a bit frustrating for them to score.
EF: Who do you think is the dangerman for both sides? Assuming Gareth Bale won't make a surprise appearance on the day, is there anyone else on this Spurs team who you feel Holloway has to set the team up to be prepared for?
CW: Whether it be Jermain Defoe, Roberto Soldado or whoever else, you can probably expect whoever is lining up at forward and running at Palace's center backs to be the most dangerous man on the pitch.
In terms of a Palace dangerman, I'm afraid that they may be completely lacking one. Yannick Bolasie was my original choice because of his game-changing speed and his skill with the ball at his feet, but he's been sidelined with a hamstring injury and will miss opening weekend. In his stead, you may see the majority of the attacking work being put on the shoulders of young Spanish maestro Jose Campana, probably the best signing of the entire window for Palace, and/or Welsh international Johnny Williams. With a lack of striker talent up top for the Eagles, those two will need to pull the strings to make any offense happen. If they can create easy chances for the strikers, Palace will have a chance to score goals. If the onus is on the strikers themselves to make the attack happen, it's likely going to end in pain. We are, of course, assuming that Chamakh doesn't suddenly turn into a master of his craft now that he's out of the bubble of darkness that surrounds Arsene Wenger.
EF: Looking past this game, what do you realistically hope to see from this Palace side for the rest of the season?
Realistically, I can't see Palace finishing anywhere higher than 15th. I'm hoping that the team can hit the ground running right off the bat and getting some confidence and points early on. That won't just keep the team in the race later on in the game, but it may also allow Ian Holloway to finally get some more high quality signings into the team before the season ends. The January transfer window will almost certainly be what makes or breaks this campaign. Ask me again then, since we'll meet next on January 11th!
EF: Finally, what is your score prediction?
CW: I'd say 3-0 Spurs, but it's a home match for Palace so... OK, fine, 3-0 Spurs.