It probably wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that, even with nine points from a possible 12, Crystal Palace haven’t really exceeded expectations so far in the 2015-16 term. But that’s no slant on the team’s tremendous start.
After a strong finish to the previous term under the tutelage of the divisive but undeniably effective Alan Pardew, the Eagles recruited smartly during the summer window and seemed primed to go again. Wins over Norwich, Aston Villa and, most impressively, away at Chelsea have laid down an early marker, hinting Palace are ready to break free of their mid-table shackles and soar.
It’s a season which seems set to live up to the lofty expectations so many at Selhurst Park held prior to the big kick off. Here’s a closer look at this burgeoning team’s fine beginning and a glance to what they may be capable of this term.
Best Player – Jason Puncheon
Last season, Puncheon had a legitimate case for being the most underrated player in the Premier League. After beginning the current campaign in sparkling form, the 29-year-old midfielder finally seems to be getting the overdue recognition his excellent performances warrant.
In all four of the Eagles’ games, Puncheon has been deployed in a different role. But whether it be across the midfield or behind the center forward, his close control, turn of pace and eye for a pass have caused big problems for Palace’s opponents. Pardew has an array of options to call upon in this area of the pitch, but the Englishman has become an indispensable player for this team.
Bakary Sako also deserves a mention after settling into the side magnificently since his move from Wolverhampton Wanderers this summer. The winger has two goals and an assist from his first two matches as a Palace player.
Most Improved Player – James McArthur
Mile Jedinak was considered a vital player in this Palace team this 12 months ago, and while the dominant Australian still has a part to play at Selhurst Park, the emergence of James McArthur as this side’s midfield enforcer means Jedinak’s marginalization has gone almost unnoticed.
The Scot was impressive in his first season at the club following a summer move from Wigan Athletic, but after being handed added responsibility by Pardew, he’s taken his game on. McArthur is an unrelentingly industrious presence at the base of the midfield, and his defensive instincts have been crucial to Yohan Cabaye looking so at ease pulling the strings.
In: Yohan Cabaye, Connor Wickham, Alex McCarthy, Bakary Sako, Patrick Bamford
Out: Glenn Murray, Peter Ramage, Lewis Price, Sam Magri, Shola Ameobi, Kyle De Silva, Stephen Dobbie, Michael Chambers, Owen Garvan, Jerome Thomas, Adlene Guedioura, Barry Bannan
Yohan Cabaye (Sept. 12), Joe Ledley, Mile Jedinak (Sept. 20), Fraizer Campbell, Julian Speroni (Sept. 12), Kwesi Appiah, Marouane Chamakh
Manager Analysis – Alan Pardew:
Like him or not, you can’t deny Pardew has done an astute job with the south Londoners. Under his watch, Palace are cohesive in defense, tenacious in midfield and boast both incision and intricacy when launching their attacking assaults.
The challenge for the manager will be preserving a level of consistency. Pardew’s managerial career has been rife with massive highs, like the one the team is currently enjoying, and substantial lows. If the ex-Newcastle United boss can get this team to stave off those desperate spells of form and grind out results when times are tough, it’ll be a major flaw in his managerial make-up solved.
Getting that consistency will be vital for Palace, but it slowly seems to be coming together. Players like Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie, who were once capricious influences, are turning in much more rounded performances on a regular basis, while the steadying presence of Cabaye in midfield allows this team to secure a foothold in matches that’d previously slip away.
The lack of a top-class center forward is still a concern, with neither Connor Wickham nor Patrick Bamford looking up to the job quite yet. Nevertheless, the first XI is fearsome on paper, and if the Eagles can add a gnarly quality to complement their flamboyance, a top-seven finish is not beyond them.
Overall Rating – 5/5
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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