By Jay Jaffa
Crystal Palace have quietly gone about their business this summer as Tony Pulis prepares for his first full season in charge of the Eagles but a reliance on late August bargains cast an unsettling shadow over Selhurst Park.
Goal takes a look at the state of play at Selhurst Park...
Just the two. Or three if you include 21-year-old Scottish goalkeeper Chris Kettings. Brede Hangeland was signed from relegated Fulham, arriving to little fanfare from Tony Pulis. "Brede was a free transfer, and he lives in London, so it was a no-brainer really.” The giant Norwegian brings experience and leadership but faces an internal battle just to prove he has still got top-level pedigree.
Palace’s purchase of Fraizer Campbell seems much more astute at under £1 million, though it isn’t clear how many minutes he will be guaranteed. The Manchester United academy graduate is 26 now but has impressed in spells for his last two clubs - Cardiff City and Sunderland - to the point at the latter where he received his one and only England cap.
Plenty of senior players were shown the exit door this summer as Pulis trimmed the fat on a fairly squad with foundations largely built in the Championship. It is a sign of the standard of player that the majority moved back down a tier with the popular Kagisho Dikgacoi moving to Cardiff City, while Dean Moxey and Jonathan Parr moved to Bolton and Ipswich respectively.
Spanish signing Jose Campana ended an unsuccessful spell in London by moving to Serie A side Sampdoria whilst Danny Gabbidon was released on a free transfer.
Overall Palace have kept their key players, though currently they look short in central midfield and at left-back where youngster Jerome Williams looks like being thrown in at the deep end for the Premier League opener at Arsenal. Otherwise, the wage bill has been trimmed, leaving Pulis with room to manoeuvre as the transfer window winds down.
The squad is smaller, tighter but probably stronger given two important first-team signings. That doesn’t mask all of Pulis’s problems though and he’ll need to move sensibly to plug a couple of holes before September 1 rolls around.
Extending Julian Speroni’s contract was an important piece of business, even with Wayne Hennessey waiting in the wings and the Argentine gives the Eagles a solid platform to work from.
Scott Dann, Adrian Mariappa and Brede Hangeland are solid central defensive options and they have depth there with Damian Delaney and Paddy McCarthy providing decent back-up. The flanks are a concern though and Jerome Williams, a 19-year-old academy graduate will contend with Mariappa for the left-back position. Joel Ward remains a dependable first-choice right-back.
Palace do look stronger in midfield though, with Mile Jedinak’s leadership married to Joe Ledley’s ball-playing ability a definite positive. Pulis does have exciting options on the wings - imperative to the style the former Stoke boss is keen to impose. Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon, Jimmy Kebe and to some extent Adlene Guedioura all offer a goal threat from wide, on top of genuine pace and ability to beat their marker.
With Frazier Campbell now on the books, Pulis has varying styles of striker to turn to as well. Marouane Chamakh experienced a renaissance of sorts last year, while Dwight Gayle improved as the season went on. Glenn Murray provides adequate back-up though Pulis will be without favourite Cameron Jerome after his loan spell expired.
As befits the majority of bottom half sides there isn’t a superstar to speak of, more a couple of integral members of the first-team.
Bolasie’s inconsistency can be maddening but he improved as the season developed, while Jedinak’s defensive contribution in midfield was vital in Palace’s second half of the season revival.
Speroni was another who shone across the entire campaign but the cult hero is not guaranteed to start as Palace’s No.1.
The stand-out though was Puncheon, who over the course of the year marked himself as the Eagles’ gamechanger. Crucial goals against Stoke, Hull, Cardiff and Aston Villa picked up 12 points as Palace moved clear of danger and staged an unlikely survival from relegation.
Many felt Pulis was crazy to take the job at Selhurst Park, such was the dire situation Ian Holloway left the club in when he left in October, but the Welshman made an immediate impact, turning a leaky defence into one of the most solid in the division and being lauded as a potential manager of the season winner. By May, Palace were the seventh-best defensive side in the Premier League, with 12 clean sheets to their name.
The former Stoke boss is still stigmatised by his reputation at Stoke as a long-ball merchant but his time at Palace suggests he may be adjusting to the times.
The problem then, is to keep a devoted home support happy whilst ensuring Palace survive another year in the Premier League. That said, most Eagles fans will be content just to avoid a relegation battle. There is very little pressure on Pulis going into the season but a couple more additions would not go amiss.
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