Crystal Palace may have lost to Arsenal on the opening weekend, but the Eagles displayed a grit and determination that often characterise teams managed by Tony Pulis whenever faced with superior opposition.
So cutthroat is the competition that as many as ten Premier League teams are contenders for relegation this season and given their performances last season, Palace will surely be included on that list.
Last season, Palace conceded 48 league goals. 25 of those goals came between August and October, during Ian Holloway’s time in charge. From November to May, the club conceded only 23, posting a better defensive record than Liverpool, who let in 50. That was down to the work Tony Pulis had put into the team.
As Arsene Wenger – who would’ve been Pulis’ opposite number if he’d been at the Emirates on Saturday evening – said, the Welshman’s turnaround of Palace’s fortunes was nothing short of miraculous.
Pulis helped Palace get off their knees and while he did manage to get the team to safely stand up by the time last season ended, he knew the side would need additional investment come this summer. Although there have been reinforcements at Selhurst Park, some of those that have come in have had neither the quality nor the attitude to thrive under Pulis.
The former Stoke City boss is a fan of players who work hard and aren’t hesitant towards putting in the hours when required. It was that characteristic that was found in players such as Scott Dann and Joe Ledley, who joined Palace last winter, and it was footballers who were cut from similar cloth that were desired by Pulis, who excels in building teams that are more than the sum of their parts would normally suggest.
Unfortunately for him, Palace chairman Steve Parish didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with his recruitment policies.
For example, Mile Jedinak was one of Palace’s most hardworking players under Pulis, and it was his performances at defensive midfield which led to the club being so stingy at the back. He averaged eight defensive actions a match, with only defenders Damien Delaney, Scott Dann and Danny Gabbidon averaging more.
Fraizer Campbell was one on a shortlist of players who would fit that bill. Others included Cardiff City skipper Stephen Caulker, Tottenham playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson and Southampton midfielder Jack Cork. Pulis recognised that these players would form the core of a side which would lift Palace from perennial relegation battlers to mid-table contenders.
As former West Ham United manager Alan Curbishley said on Football Today, Parish is a very hands-on administrator who wanted to bring to Palace a player who could instantly become a fan favourite. Former Palace sensation Wilfried Zaha was on the top of his transfer priorities and given the lack of game time and his inability to nail down a place at United, would’ve jumped at the opportunity to return to Palace.
But Zaha’s attitude has been previously criticised by both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, and therefore wouldn’t have been appropriate for Pulis’ methods, which uncomplaining wingers such as Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon easily adapted to.
Parish was therefore unwilling to release the funds that Pulis requested, as a result of which both parties remained at an impasse. As a consequence, Palace only spent £1.5 million this summer, primarily on fringe players such as Tom Ince and Martin Kelly.
The Londoners have spent the least amount of money among all the clubs in the Premier League, including Queens Park Rangers (£20m), Burnley (£2.5m) and Leicester City (£10m).
Palace have transfer targets similar to the clubs around them and while Pulis and Parish have been haggling over the players that should come to Selhurst Park, they’ve been snapped up by clubs Palace would consider to be direct rivals in the league.
He wanted players with Premier League experience and because of neither side being able to reach a compromise, had to settle for players who wouldn’t have been his first choice, such as Brede Hangeland.
Caulker has moved to Loftus Road to form the bedrock of Harry Redknapp’s new look centre-back pairing which also features Rio Ferdinand while Sigurdsson has returned to Swansea as part of the deal which saw Michel Vorm move the other way. Southampton’s squad has been picked apart by Liverpool and Manchester United and they will be extremely unwilling to let go of Cork, another of their integral players.
Pulis’ methods nearly came to fruition against Arsenal. They denied the Gunners’ superior midfield the space required to play their passing game and capitalised on errors the hosts made. The Eagles took the lead from a corner because of Arsenal’s slack marking and were able to restrict the hosts to just six shots on target, despite the hosts hogging 76% of the possession.
The Emirates Stadium outfit did press, but required two defensive errors from the visitors at set pieces for Laurent Koscielny to equalise just before half time before Aaron Ramsey’s second-half stoppage time winner sent palpable waves of relief coursing through north London.
It is that sort of defensive organisation that saw Crystal Palace beat the likes of Chelsea at home and Everton, Cardiff and West Ham en route to safety and it would’ve held them in good stead this season.
Parish has let go of his manager at a time when squad unity and togetherness is vital. Pulis would’ve drilled his players all summer to play a certain way and whoever comes in now will probably need to develop the club’s team chemistry on the go.
To compound matters, the transfer market has roughly two weeks remaining and in that time, not only is the new manager going to have to convince Parish to allow him to sign the requisite players and let him establish his ideas in the dressing room without an overbearing influence because no manager continually likes looking over his shoulder to see if he is being given the free hand he requires to shape the team. A haphazard list of managers including former Everton (and Manchester United) boss David Moyes, ex-Celtic manager Neil Lennon, erstwhile Cardiff gaffer Malky Mackay and Chris Hughton, who was at relegated Norwich last season, has been drawn up by the media but team stability both on and off the pitch is a must for a team if they are to deliver results on it.
This season was always going to be a very challenging one for the club, and in letting go of Tony Pulis, Crystal Palace may have already lost the relegation battle even before it has begun.
Updated Date: Aug 20, 2014 15:41 PM