Do not be shocked to see Crystal Palace challenging for sixth position in the Premier League this season. After a more than underwhelming first half under different managers last term, Alan Pardew stepped in and guided them to tenth place at the end of the 2014/15 season.
There are a number of factors that suggest Palace can break into the stronghold of the big six, and when these factors are all put in the melting pot; the result will be immensely favourable to Palace and their optimistic fans.
The manager is still enjoying a honeymoon period with the club. When Pardew joined Palace after a turbulent relationship with his previous employers, Newcastle United, his positive demeanour and feisty rhetoric returned.
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Already popular with Palace due to his time there as a player, their successful second half to last season truly consolidated his position. He guided Palace from 18th to tenth in the second half of last season.
Crystal Palace have not had a manager who has been in the post a full season since 2011/12, but this season they will do; Palace have the stability to continue the good progress made under Pardew and start this current campaign strongly.
Strength in depth
Their win on the opening day of the season against Norwich, with Pardew claiming he chose the wrong starting XI during the 90 minutes, shows signs they can adapt and have strength and depth in their squad.
Crystal Palace have strengthened their squad well this summer, by signing different types of players which will give their attack more dynamism and variety. Previously, Palace relied a lot on counter attacks rather than possession based build up play.
The impressive capture of the French international Yohan Cabaye will provide that composure and technical ability in the midfield to control tempo and create opportunities for forwards through the centre of the pitch.
Wing-play here to stay
The club have no need to abandon their pacy wing-play attacks, however, and the signing of Bakary Sako from Wolves means they have extremely capable competition for Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha, not least because he carries a far more potent goal threat. Sako also attempted 104 dribbles in the Championship last year, more than anyone else, and his guile and speed ought to give opposition defenders a real problem.
The arrival of Patrick Bamford from Chelsea on loan will give Palace a genuine out-and-out striker. The prolific youngster will be desperately hungry to succeed in the Premier League and show his parent club what he is capable of after being on loan in the Championship the last few years.
Getting the best out of Yannick Bolasie will be pivotal to Palace achieving a good league standing again. Bolasie is an enigmatic player, with the potential to create chances out of nowhere. He has two useful feet for crossing and has an unusual style of running at defenders with the ball. On his day he is truly top drawer.
Last season he improved significantly, and was central to the club’s attacking play, but he does need to add to his goal tally as Pardew has admitted. His hat trick vs Sunderland in April shows he has the ability, and fans should be optimistic he can score more regularly this time round.
Element of surprise
Crystal Palace still have the element of surprise to shock teams whilst slipping under the radar. Away at Norwich, Palace were 2/1 to win away from home with some bookmakers, a real steal considering their away form last season was highly impressive.
Teams often find the element of surprise useful in putting a good sequence of results together, look at Southampton last year when many believed they would be relegation fodder after losing key players. Once there is an aspect of expectation, that is when teams can falter under the pressure.
The Premier League should be as competitive as always this season, but in terms of challenging for the European spots, the competition should be wide open, especially for sixth place. Tottenham repeatedly show signs of mental weakness in matches, and could have had a far greater result vs Manchester United on the opening day had they punished mistakes.
In their second match, they were pegged back to a draw after being two goals up against Stoke. Whilst they are a bigger side than Palace and have the resources to sustain a top six finish over the course of a season, they are by no means a shoo-in for that position. Swansea and Stoke can also provide a challenge for sixth place, but are better known quantities than Palace and bigger sides are less likely to underestimate them.
When certain key factors are right at the right time, clubs can achieve significant results. Crystal Palace finally have managerial stability, and to have that in the Premier League these days is precious and valuable.
This combined with high quality and eager-to-impress signings, added to an already exciting and attacking team suggests a very high placed finish is within their grasp. It is hard to sustain good form over an entire season, but a larger squad with competition for places should go a long way to help. Southampton, Swansea and Stoke are examples of smaller clubs competing to get into Europe in recent seasons on the wave of optimism. This time it may well be Crystal Palace’s turn.