The Season Just Gone
There seems to be a phenomenon among a certain generation of British managers which means they never learn from their mistakes and never do anything to justify getting a bigger club job, and they end up cycling through clubs of similar stature, producing the same season over and over and over again for what feels like eternity.
Before David Moyes bucked the trend, got overpromoted and ruined his career, he was arguably the benchmark. Nowadays we have Tony Pulis stubbornly grinding out enough forgettable clean sheets to avoid relegation, while Sam Allardyce has made a career out of Guaranteeing Survival at the expense of being likeable in any conceivable way, while Steve Bruce has managed to forge a career as a peerless promoted-relegated-promoted-relegated-promoted-etcetera guy.
Alan Pardew is arguably the pick of this bunch, albeit primarily because his escapades off the pitch make the torpor of watching what his teams produce on it slightly more bearable. From bestowing the moniker ‘The King’ upon himself while being absolutely bang-average at West Ham, to making unbelievably ill-judged use of the word ‘rape’ on Match of the Day 2, to headbutting Hull’s David Meyler (among many other indiscretions) while at Newcastle, Pardew guarantees at least that life will never be dull while he’s around.
Palace’s 2015-16 was a typical Pardew season: half a season of overachievement and fun and blustering self-promotion, followed by half a season of abject results off the back of even more lifeless performances. Inevitably, while Pardew took full credit for Palace’s incredible surge up the table until December, he was quick to pass the buck on when it became clear that his team’s results were based on nothing more than luck.
Throughout the campaign their shot numbers were, at best, very worrying – routinely outshot and by huge margins, it beggared belief that the Eagles didn’t get punished for their awfulness and fall down the table for so long. Sure, they played some decent stuff going forward at times, and they were effect enough from set pieces to score more goals than they had any right to, but they were so constantly open and so bad without the ball that to give Pardew any credit at all would be unfair on managers who actually do good jobs.
If anything, Palace were lucky to survive, and with clubs like Watford and Southampton hiring Walter Mazzarri and Claude Puel during the summer, Pardew was lucky to keep his job.
The Season Ahead
Worryingly for Crystal Palace fans, basically none of the squad’s biggest problems have been addressed over the summer, while several useful players have been allowed to leave. A squad full of decent but patchy wingers and trusty but unspectacular centre-backs saw Andros Townsend and James Tomkins arrive, adding
much needed variety more of what they already had, while the likes of Yannick Bolasie, Mile Jedinak and Dwight Gayle departed. French goalkeeper Steve Mandanda is an unbelievable upgrade on the frankly useless Wayne Hennessey, but even a goalkeeper of Mandanda’s quality is unlikely to be able to keep out a sufficient quantity of the many, many shots he’ll have to deal with on a weekly basis.
The imminent arrival of Christian Benteke may go some way to solving Palace’s chronic goalscoring problems, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the towering striker is somewhat overrated and may not be quite up to task unless Palace’s system gets a lot more coherent in a very short space of time. There are plenty of managers who inspire confidence in fans – who, one feels, know exactly how to reorganise a team to get the best out of a new player. Frankly, Pardew isn’t one of them.
Unless the promoted teams really are hilariously out of their depth this time around, one suspects Palace are in for another long, hard season. Don’t be surprised if this gets really bad, really quickly.
Fackin’ run araahnd a bit!
Whether by accident or design, Palace’s Plan A under Pardew has been to sit relatively deep and absorb pressure before countering at pace, using their wingers’ speed and unpredictability to generate scoring chances. It’s hardly a novel plan, nor a particularly good one, but with Palace’s inability to hold onto the ball in midfield coupled with their constant lack of decent number tens or nines to funnel attacking play through, it’s been just about their option.
It’ll be more of the same on Saturday, and while Spurs can be confident of having the space in midfield to dominate the game and create enough chances to score a fair few goals, they should be aware (as always) that it’s the home games against inferior opponents in which they have loads of time and space and chances that they always seem to balls up.
As previously stated, Palace’s biggest threats are pace on the flanks and attacking set pieces. Conceding against them is almost inconceivable if it’s not via a fast transition on the wings, or a towering header from a crossed set play. That said, Andros Townsend and The Law Of The Ex (Also Starring Michel Vorm) determines that he’s bound to smack in one of his 10,000 attempted long-range blooters on Saturday.
On levels individual, collective, physical, tactical and technical, Crystal Palace are significantly inferior to Tottenham. That’s a pretty big weakness.
On a less sarcastic and more specific note, Erik Lamela is flying and Pape Souaré is basically rubbish, so that "duel" should be a source of joy for Spurs. Also, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are at least as good going forward as the wingers they’ll be expected to stop – Townsend and Wilfried Zaha – while Townsend and Zaha aren’t quite as good defensively as they need to be to stop Walker and Rose. Finally, Connor Wickham is expected to start up front, so if Palace do manage to score it won’t have been through their "striker".
Mauricio Pochettino has a full-strength XI available, bar the injured Hugo Lloris, and should be expected to use it.
Alan Pardew still has very few cards in his pack, and unless Steve Mandanda is fit enough to take his rightful place between the sticks, or Jason Puncheon replaces Lee Chung-Yong for some arbitrary reason, there shouldn’t be any surprises.
If this was October I’d say a comfortable 3-0 home win but it looks like Spurs need a few weeks to find their rhythm, so it’ll probably be just the one goal that settles it.