Crystal Palace remain only one point away from a potential European spot after their surprise defeat to Sunderland on Monday, but do they have the ability to push on and contend for a place in the Europa League?
There are three Europa League places up for grabs in the Premier League, but as the League Cup and FA Cup are often won by league leaders, the sixth and seventh positions open up as European qualifying spots.
History tells us fifth place belongs to Tottenham, they’ve got that locked down, but the other two spots are open to any of the other high flyers, like West Ham and Southampton last year.
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As the league currently stands, assuming that the cup competitions are won by any of the top four, West Ham and Everton would enter into the Europa League. However, the following group are very close, with 11th to sixth separated by just two points.
Palace are one of those currently in contention for a Europa spot and have been playing very well, beating teams way beyond their pay grade, but they need to reinforce two key positions if they are to push up the league table.
What Palace have got right
Alan Pardew came in last season and has established a more exciting style of football than his predecessors (Neil Warnock, Tony Pulis and Ian Holloway) used. He’s utilised the speed and creativity of £441,000 transfer from Bristol City in 2012, Yannick Bolasie, and added Bakary Sako and Wilfried Zaha to balance the attack.
This summer he broke Palace’s record transfer fee to reunite with Yohan Cabaye - currently the team’s top scorer.
Palace’s defence is pretty solid, held together by Scott Dann and either Brede Hangeland or Damien Delaney. At full-back, there’s the defence-minded Martin Kelly and Joel Ward or, first choice left-back Pape Souaré who is equally good going forward as he is going back.
Admittedly, that isn’t the highest calibre back four but they work well as a unit and everyone puts in a decent shift. They were comfortable against Sunderland for most of the match, but for a momentary lapse in judgement by the defence and the keeper flying off his line, led to a late winner from Jermain Defoe on Monday night - a result which contradicted Palace’s performance in the game.
Then, in the centre of midfield, James McArthur, Yohan Cabaye and Jason Puncheon work non-stop to protect the defence and string together attacking moves - quickly looking to set off their fiery wingers.
The trio have contributed four goals and five assists so when you consider Palace have scored just 14 goals from their 13 Premier League games it is clear they provide a great proportion of the Eagles’ scoring.
The biggest threats to the opposition defences the Eagles possess are the blisteringly quick wingers Bakary Sako, Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha. The three have been rotated in the wide roles and have even occupied the striking role when required.
Where Pardew needs to improve
Palace need a goal scorer. They currently host Frazier Campbell, Dwight Gayle, Connor Wickham and Patrick Bamford (on loan) - none of whom are reliable forwards.
Wickham was brought in by Pardew this summer but has failed to impress, though he’s only 22-years-old, he hasn’t been able to establish himself since the promise he showed at Ipswich Town.
Campbell won’t be a regular scorer until snapped up by a lower league club and the same might be true of Gayle. The 25-year-old has pace and can score on occasion but is just too inconsistent to hold down a first team striking role.
With all of the playmaking ability of the wingers and central midfielders, any half-decent striker would flourish in their team.
Strikers that could be lured to Selhurst Park
We’ll start off with a potential inter-league transfer prospect here - Watford’s Odion Ighalo.
The Nigerian super striker has fitted perfectly into Premier League culture. Not only did he partner Troy Deeney in dragging the Hornets up from the Championship, he’s now leading them well away from the relegation zone in the Premier League.
His seven goals and three assists - working off relative scraps provided by the Premier League newcomers - has been incredible and he would flourish with Zaha, Bolasie and Cabaye feeding him.
Then there’s one of the hottest striking prospects in Europe - Michy Batshuayi. The 22-year-old Belgian moved to Marseille from Standard Liège at the beginning of last season.
Although he started life in Ligue 1 on the bench, by the end of the campaign he was capitalising on his limited field time and finished the season with ten goals.
Over the summer, he suddenly exploded into this huge presence in front of goal.
He was always quick off the mark, but now he’s much bigger and more powerful - a real handful to every defence. Batshuayi even beat David Luiz in the air to score against Paris Saint-Germain earlier this season.
He already has eight goals and three assists from 13 league games this season and at the end of the summer window speculation flared up that Arsenal wanted to sign the Belgian wonder kid, but nothing solid came to fruition.
It looks like he might be up for grabs, and the spending power of the Premier League will be a major lure for Batshuayi. If Palace move with haste, they could snap him up, in a similar way that Newcastle clinched the signing of Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Pardew must then turn his gaze to the other end of the pitch, and assess his goalkeeping situation.
The first choice between the pegs is Wayne Hennessey, who has conceded 13 goals and kept three clean sheets from his ten games.
Then there is Alex McCarthy, signed from QPR as the Welshman’s backup, who has conceded seven in six appearances. Julián Speroni is also still hanging around but hasn’t been given an opportunity this season - largely due to his injury recovery.
None of the above are strong enough to be starting for a team in the top half of the Premier League. All three are very unreliable and in a tight game can lose concentration at the most crucial times as proven in the Sunderland game.
Potential Goalies on the Shopping List
Borussia Monchengladbach followed up their fine goalie streak after losing Marc-Andre ter Stegen to Barcelona by signing Yann Sommer at the start of last season.
The Swiss keeper has been very impressive at Mönchengladbach, keeping 23 clean sheets in his 66 appearances and conceding 65. The 26-year-old would be a huge improvement on Palace’s current goalkeepers.
Another affordable candidate for Pardew is Zenit St. Petersburg keeper, Yuri Lodygin. His stats are even more impressive than Sommer’s. In 103 appearances for Zenit, he boasts 42 clean sheets and has only conceded 97.
Zenit have been one of the top two teams in the Russian Premier Liga since 2010 and have a strong defence including the highly respected Ezequiel Garay. Though Lodygin is currently playing for a very rich club, the lure of the Premier League may convince him to come to the far west of Europe.
He is currently the second choice for the Russian national side, behind Igor Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow, but if he were to compete in one of the world’s top divisions it may sway his international manager Leonid Slutsky - who also coaches Akinfeev at CSKA - to select him.
With amendments at either end of the field, Palace could make a surprise push for the Europa League spots in the coming seasons.
They have a top manager, a sturdy defence and a great midfield, all they need is a goal scorer and a shot stopper.
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