Pre-season is a time of perpetual optimism; the skies are blue, the beer is cool and Crystal Palace are going to win the cup. Everything remains unwritten, our flaws yet to be exposed, the cynicism yet to set in and our hopes yet to be dashed. The optimism this year has only been exacerbated by a new manager, and what a manager, on paper at least.
100 caps for the Netherlands, 5 Eredivisie’s, La Liga, the Champions League and the Uefa Cup. As a player, he’s won the lot. Add to that haul the 4 Eredivisie’s he’s won as a manager and you begin to understand the significance of an appointment like this for Crystal Palace.
Pre season has seen the adoption of a new system, the addition of two players and the gradual formation of de Boer’s vision for where this football club is going. With the final game of pre-season done and dusted at home to Schalke what can we look forward to this season?
We’re still short of a couple of players. After the Schalke game it’s unclear who will start next weekend in goal, but we all hope murmurings of a first choice goalkeeper being brought in are true. While Hennessey has a mistake or three in him unlike the rest of the fanbase I am unwilling to blindly back a goalkeeper who has played second fiddle for two seasons, as much as I love Julian as a figure.
Andros Townsend is also far better employed further forward and I’d love to see Luka and Ruben Loftus-Cheek paired together which means further cover at centre-half you’d have thought. Pairing those two would require one of the other midfielders to sit out of course, and that man is Jason Puncheon as things stand. I was unsure about his appointment as captain under Allardyce and I’m no less dubious now. The fact he cares about the club is irrelevant because I’m not sure he’s good enough to hold down a place regularly in this Crystal Palace team. He doesn’t create enough to play close to the strikers and it seems he’s being accommodated further back where he’s sloppy and caught on the ball far too often.
I was unsure about his appointment as captain under Allardyce and I’m no less dubious now. The fact he cares about the club is fantastic, but besides the point, because I’m not sure he’s good enough to hold down a place regularly in this Crystal Palace team. He doesn’t create enough to play close to the strikers and it seems he’s being accommodated further back where he’s sloppy and caught on the ball far too often. We don’t have the ability to carry players and I think there are better options in the squad.
We’ve hardly been free scoring in pre-season but I think our attacking combination is one of our strengths. I have seldom done Wilfried Zaha justice in my praise such is the level of performance he’s been delivering for a year now but his combination with Benteke and a settled Townsend (once he is restored further up the pitch) is an exciting one.
Central midfield is also looking like a strong area for us. Without wishing to jump the gun Ruben Loftus-Cheek looks like the real deal and Yohan Cabaye provides an attacking threat unmatched by any other Crystal Palace midfielder. James McArthur had a poor spell towards the end of the season but impressed week in and week out prior to that and Luka Milivojevic is the very upgrade on Mile Jedinak that I was harping on about for so long. Add into that mix the dynamic Jonny Williams and there is real quality and depth in midfield which could prove vital throughout the season.
So just how far can we push on this season? A comfortable season would be nice. I said it at the start of the summer, but we must temper our excitement at de Boer’s arrival. Aside from one or two, this is the same outfit that nearly got relegated last season and I think it would be naive to believe that we will plug each of our numerous weaknesses in our squad in one transfer window. I expect to see a welcome change in our playing style, I expect to see the adoption of a different footballing philosophy but I don’t expect fireworks, at least not straight away.
This season is for laying the foundations for the future, we have to think big picture about the direction de Boer is taking the football club (which will become clearer as the season goes on) and buy into the project. A comfortable season of development, that’s what I both expect and hope for. A little run in the cup, doing the double over Brighton and beating Liverpool would all just be gravy on top…