Match previews

Preview: Union vs Crystal Palace

English Premier League minnows Crystal Palace caught lightning in a bottle last season when long ball devotee Tony Pulis arrived midseason and turned a relegation-worthy side into a defensive juggernaut.

Palace shot up the table in the second half of the season last year, finishing eleventh despite a paltry 33 goals across 38 games. They have had an extremely quiet offseason, and all indications are that there won’t be much money thrown about before the 2014-15 season starts. Friday’s match against the Union (7 pm, no TV or live stream; purchase tickets here), then, will largely be about finding out what kind of depth the squad will have as they look to defy the odds once again.

Manager: Tony Pulis

Let’s start at the top. After endearing self-caricature Ian Holloway guided Palace to promotion, he shaped the team prior to the¬†2013-14 Premier League season. Unfortunately, he could not decide what kind of lineup or formation he wanted to play. Three points from eight matches spelled doom for Holloway before the end of October. After a brief interim stint by Keith Millen, former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis arrived, with the expectation that he would make Palace harder to beat using his near-patented long ball-hard tackle system.

He did the former. And part of the latter.

Who shined last year

Though he had stubbornly clung to his boot-n-chase system at other stops, Pulis adapted his tactics to Palace’s motley crew. He plucked former rising star Scott Dann from the Championship and paired him with Damien Delaney to form a big, strong duo in central defense. In front of them, he released relentless (and relentlessly mediocre) Australian midfielder Mile Jedinak to clog up the middle and occasionally make passes to his own team.

The real twist for a Pulis team was the installation of two tricky wingers. Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie allowed Palace to play an outside-in game, providing service to former Arsenal bust Marouane Chamakh up top. Bolasie in particular proved an inspiration, suffering 26 fouls that handed Palace the free kick opportunities they needed to take advantage of good team height.

Last summer’s record signing, Dwight Gayle, stumbled out of the gate but finished the season joint-top goal scorer (with Puncheon) with seven.

Not a lot of offense

That’s right. Seven goals is all it takes to finish on top when your team collectively nets only thirty-three. Absurdly, the team’s number one striker, Chamakh, started 27 games up top and only took 17 shots, scoring on five of them.

Accordingly, expect Palace to look a lot like the Union under Jim Curtin. They will shrink back into a tight, organized defensive shell before looking to break through the wingers when they win possession. And much like the Union, Palace’s biggest issue is playing that first ball in transition.

Looking to make an impression

Palace did not have many players step up outside of Pulis’ preferred first eleven last year. Against the Union, a few young names will be looking to make their mark prior to the 2014-15 EPL season.

Barry Bannan is a buzzing little winger/wingback who showed flashes of potential at Aston Villa. He disappeared down the depth chart once Pulis replaced Holloway and will need to stand out if he wants to avoid a career in the lower divisions starting next year.

Adlene Guedioura looked like a player who could connect the offensive dots before injuries derailed his season in 2013-14. When he returned to the side, he was used mostly off the bench and never got back on track. He should get a good look-in during preseason.

Dwight Gayle is smaller than the typical Pulis striker, but surprisingly good in the air. He’s an energetic pesterer but can’t hold up play like Chamakh (who was simply spectacular at that aspect of the game last season). Palace need more goals this campaign and Gayle needs to show he’s a potential answer up top.

Glenn Murray and Jake Gray will be competing with Gayle for coveted substitute minutes up top, and both scored (dubious) goals against Columbus on Wednesday.

Prediction: Seriously?

I’m not making a prediction in a friendly! Come on, I get enough grief about my predictions for games that actually matter! Jim Curtin told reporters on Wednesday that fans can expect to see two different XI, each getting 45 minutes, with a handful of players getting more minutes than that. Bearing in mind that Jimmy McLaughlin and Richie Marquez are unavailable because Harrisburg is hosting Richmond Kickers on Saturday, which Union fringe/disappeared players will make their mark against Crystal Palace? New guy Brian “Rambo” Brown? Volley-master Pedro Ribeiro? Feel free to share your predictions below.

3 Comments

  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    Just looking forward to seeing new faces debut/play for the U, and hoping NO ONE gets hurt. Gonna be a beautiful night (weather-wise) for football!!

  2. Wow, way to wuss out on making a prediction, seems like Rendell was right!!!

  3. Instead of predictions, I’ll give wishes:
    1) Yes, no one gets hurt
    2) The first team goes out and just tries stuff. Be creative and have fun (think Dom Dwyer against Man City)
    3) One or two of the new kids make a big impression.

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