Measuring Progress for the Season Ahead
There is a feel good factor around Selhurst Park recently. Surviving relegation last season and then the addition of Frank De Boer as manager have left a sweet taste in the mouth and people are beginning to feel optimistic about the season ahead.
The 2016/17 campaign saw Palace flirting with the relegation zone all season and a steady run of results towards the end secured safety. No-one has the appetite for a repeat showing. The quality of performance in some of those end of season matches showed that the side has quality and should be fighting further up the table.
As I see it, the Premier League can now be divided into three mini-leagues. The first being the top seven who all scored over sixty points last season. Then 8th to 13th of which there were just two points separating Southampton who finished top and Stoke City bottom which shows just how close the league has become. Lastly 14th to 20th, usually involving newly promoted teams and those in transition. Palace won this bottom mini-league last season, but only just.
Palace should be, in what is our fifth season in the Premier League since promotion looking to now push on and break into that middle league. We have the players to do so and our end of season form shows that when we play well we can beat even the best teams. However, consistency remains the key for this to happen which will no doubt be even harder as Premier League teams bring in better and better players and there is such a high standard of manager as well.
Frank De Boer, to his credit has changed the system. something I feel has to happen for us to meet our ambitions. Too often we were predictable last season, happy to sit back and counter teams and seemed to lack any plan B. The 3-4-3 system being trialled pre-season should not only allow us to control matches better but also to take the game to our opponents. Our poor home form has also contributed massively to our poor seasons of late and de Boer will be keen to improve on this as well.
We shouldn’t be deluded enough to think this is going to be in any way easy though. New tactics and philosophies take time to be implemented and understood. Our rivals for league position are also looking to progress and for this new season to be considered a success, we have to finish above them.
West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth for example will certainly be looking to cement their places in the division and be pushing for a higher mid-table finish. Tony Pulis having made his West Brom team very hard to beat and at their best, are a threat to any side. Their new addition of Jay Rodriguez could provide them with the goals to push on and achieve more this season.
Eddie Howe has managed to turn Bournemouth into a respectable Premier League team (of which he does not receive enough praise for) and despite some patchy areas in form, they were never seriously in contention for relegation. In Josh King they have a reliable goal scorer and their potent play can always create chances. They will be looking to add depth to their squad this season and continue to defy the pundits.
Both West Ham United and Stoke underachieved last season and will be looking to do better this time out. The Hammers have invested wisely in acquiring former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez in order to rectify their lack of goals. They have also bought in Manchester City outcast Joe Hart, who will be looking to prove former boss wrong and retain the England number one spot. The signing of Marko Arnautovic, from Stoke could also prove a shrewd piece of business.
Stoke suffered a poor start last season but still managed to stay out of serious trouble. So far their only real acquisition is Kurt Zouma on loan from Chelsea. They have lost Arnautovic to West Ham and have seen a lot of their older players, the likes of Phil Bardsley and Jon Walters leave. A season of transition seems to lay ahead for them and it could well be a struggle for them.
My gut tells me that Palace’s main rivals and a better yard stick for any improvement will be set against Swansea City and Watford. Palace and Watford have developed a rivalry of sorts over the last few seasons and matches between the two are always enjoyable and competitive. The Hornets have been quick with their business this transfer window, signing the much vaunted Will Hughes from Derby County and adding Nathaniel Chalobah permanently from Chelsea. Their aims and ambitions will be similar to Palace and they will be looking to outperform us.
Swansea will be looking to massively improve after a poor season which also saw them also just avoid relegation. Two results over Palace hurt last time out and the Eagles will be looking to get one over them this season. After a manager merry-go-round, Paul Clement steadied the ship and will bring the same professionalism this term. However, they look set to lose talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson, currently being chased by several clubs. Slow transfer activity this time around should be a concern for them, as the team needs fresh reinforcements to avoid a similar season to last.
Let us not forget Brighton, whilst we should finish above them, when they are in the same league as us they will always be our rivals. Beating them soundly this season will be more than enough for some Palace fans. Chris Hughton has yet to prove he can manage well in the Premier League and their transfer activity for a newly promoted team is not looking great. Add in a lack of experience at this level means they will be in for a long, hard season.
All of which I am completely happy about.