This is one of the most eagerly awaited Premier League seasons in years after our summer spending with Paulinho, Chadli, Capoue and Soldado arriving. It all comes to fruition on Sunday as we get underway with a trip to Selhurst Park for Crystal Palace vs Spurs.
The Eagles are many people’s tips to go down this season given they were promoted through the playoffs. However, Ian Holloway would have learnt a lot from his season in the top flight with Blackpool and won’t make the same mistakes that he did with the Tangerines.
A raucous home crowd will also behind them, celebrating the Eagles’ return to the top flight after an eight-year exodus. So, what are the key factors to Crystal Palace vs Spurs this time?
1. Crystal Palace set up and style
Since taking over at Crystal Palace, Ian Holloway has changed their set up and style from previous manager Dougie Freedman. The Scot played with much more width, utilising Yannick Bolasie and Wilfred Zaha as wingers, whereas Holloway sets his side up to be narrower in the final third.
His 4-2-3-1 formation saw two defensive midfielders shielding the back four with playmaker Owen Garvan pushing forward to support striker Glenn Murray. Wilfred Zaha would operate wide on the right, while Bolasie, then Jonathan Williams, cut in from the left.
How Holloway lines Palace up this season will be interesting given the departure of main man Zaha and the arrival of two strikers, a playmaker and a traditional winger.
Up top, Dwight Gayle was a club-record buy from Peterborough, whilst Marouane Chamakh is a higher profile arrival from Arsenal. Whilst out wide, Jerome Thomas was added to bring in more of a traditional winger. The most interesting signing of all though may just be passer Jose Campana from Seville.
2. Jose Campana
Ian Holloway has long been an admirer of Barcelona. So much so, that he not only compared his Blackpool side to the Catalans, but also his new Crystal Palace charges.
“Palace have got the right colours to do what I believe football is all about: the strip is very similar to Barcelona’s, and they represent what I’m trying to get to: possession, passing, attacking, defending off your attacking, fresh young footballers and creating your own style.”
In his first crack at the Premier League, Holloway lined his Blackpool side up in a 4-3-3 with wide forwards playing very direct, attacking football.
The system was designed to take full advantage of Charlie Adam’s range of passing. Two midfield shuttlers flanked the Scot, giving him full opportunity to spread the play with long diagonal passes. Similarly to Barcelona it made them entertaining to watch, whilst also being slightly naive at the back. Unlike the Catalans, Adam was operating more in the style of Xabi Alonso than Xavi.
The signing of Jose Campana could indicate that Holloway is looking to do something similar with Crystal Palace this season.
The Spaniard had limited chances at Sevilla, but his performance against Celta Vigo last term highlighted his passing range and especially a tendency to look for the diagonal ball.
Where Blackpool fell down was that teams worked out that Adam was both immobile and therefore easily exposed defensively in his deep position. Campana operates higher up the pitch and could give Holloway the midfield passer that he needs to operate his system.
3. Getting Shots in the box
Something that should be simple, but something we struggled to do last season.
Only Liverpool took more shots overall than us last term. However, nobody took more from outside the penalty area than us, where almost half of our 681 efforts came from.
As we often saw, teams that looked to frustrate us crowded the centre of the pitch, trying to force us wide. This was just one of the reasons that Gareth Bale moved out to the right at the end of last season to stretch opponents playing 4-2-3-1 with four bodies in the middle.
As a result of our shooting from range, we led the league in goals from outside the area with 20, 9 of which were scored by Gareth Bale. Our 46 from inside the box trailed Man Utd (72), Arsenal (63), Chelsea (61), Liverpool (56) and Man City (56). Without the Welshman to fire a long-distance thunderbolt on Sunday, we need to get the ball inside the area more often.
The acquisition of a penalty box threat in Roberto Soldado should solve that problem, but we can’t let Palace pack the middle and force us outside as opponents did last term.
4. Going for the full 90
Something we’ve seen in preseason is Spurs blasting out of the traps and then faltering after 40 minutes or so as we can’t keep up the high tempo game. The matches against Sunderland and Espanyol really followed this pattern.
We also saw this trend at the start of last season when the players really didn’t seem fit enough to play AVB’s high pressing game from the off. It took until our trip to Reading in our fourth match for us to finally look like we were in shape.
After conceding late goals early on last season, partly due to fatigue and organisation, we started to score them by going until the final whistle.
Unlike last term, this season we’ve conducted our transfer business early, which is positive. However, the likes of Paulinho and Roberto Soldado have only just returned from an extended break following their Confederations Cup exertions and may not be able to go the distance. Add to that Sandro and Younes Kaboul have just come back from long-term injury layoffs, so we may find ourselves in a similar situation once again.
A good start is imperative if we are to qualify for the Champions League next season, especially with the decent run of games we have to start our campaign. We can’t afford to play well for 60 minutes then fall off the pace due to fatigue.
5. Opening Day Record
Our opening day record in the Premier League hasn’t been the best.
Due to our fixture with Everton being postponed at the start of the 2011/12 season, we’ve played twenty times on opening weekend in the Premier League era.
We’ve won just six times, but have taken at least a point on twelve occasions for an average of 1.2 points per opening day game.
Crystal Palace vs Spurs conclusions
It’s difficult to predict just how Palace will play due to the acquisitions of both Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh. Ian Holloway last season used one striker flanked by wide forwards, but then brought another in to the game if his side was losing.
The injury that rules out Jerome Thomas also leaves it unclear whether he would have filled his usual left-sided role or if he will play as an inverted winger on the right. His absence might make way to include Chamakh playing in from wide to support Gayle.
What is sure is that Palace will be up for it in front of a noisy Selhurst crowd on their return to the top flight.
A 1-1 draw would probably the most likely outcome, but I fancy Spurs to sneak it with a strike from Roberto Soldado.
Crystal Palace vs Spurs prediction: Crystal Palace 1 Spurs 2