Hi everyone. This is part five of my series of blogs about the status of the Premiership Clubs of the 2014-2015 Season following the conclusion of the League season. In this blog, I’ll be focusing on Crystal Palace and Stoke City. Of course, all of this is my own opinion, so feel free to disagree and debate!
Palace had a really up-and-down season prior to Christmas. Tony Pulis had left them just before the Premier League season was due to start, possibly over financial constraints imposed by the Board. Keith Millen yet again found himself in charge until the end of August, when Neil Warnock was appointed for another spell as Palace’s manager. The Eagles were quite poor until Christmas, when Warnock was fired (Millen was placed in interim charge again) and replaced by the former Newcastle United boss Alan Pardew, who was quite happy to leave Mike Ashley and Newcastle United behind. Pardew is familiar to Palace fans, as he had played there during their spell in the Premier League in the mid-1990s, featuring in over 100 matches for the Eagles during that time.
Pardew wasted no time in changing Palace’s style of play and moving personnel around. Jason Puncheon, who had looked ineffective out wide, was brought into the middle of an attacking midfield trio and started to instantly look more effective in matches – he was Palace’s stand-out player during the run in, scoring a number of important goals, including some fantastic free-kicks.
Glen Murray managed to get back into the first team after a string of injuries (he was missing from the first team for a lengthy spell) and, like Puncheon, started to impose himself on games, scoring a number of important goals and holding the ball up very well for his team-mates. Yannick Bolasie, and Arsenal target according to some. was also superb after returning from the African Cup of Nations with the D.R.C. (a very poorly-timed tournament in my opinion, as it interrupts clubs and players that ply their trade in Europe), scoring an excellent hat-trick vs. Sunderland in the closing stages of the campaign.
The Eagles showed tenacity in defence and in the middle of the park, with Joe Ledley in particular doing a fine job at breaking up opposition attacks alongside Mile Jedinak in the middle of the park, who also had another solid season following his good 2013-14 campaign.
Palace managed to climb into the top half of the table by season’s end, finishing in a very solid 10th place. For Palace to progress next season, it is my opinion that they look to replace Damien Delaney at centre-back, as his age is beginning to take a toll, and acquire a more pacy goal-scoring forward – Murray is quite effective at bullying defenders off the ball but is not the best finisher and former Gunner Marouane Chamakh (with the horrid hair-cut) has a similar skill-set but is employed more as an attacking midfield player. Dwight Gayle could be effective at this job but I think he needs a loan out to a Championship side to gain more experience first. I haven’t seen enough of Frazier Campbell yet to convince me that he can fulfil that need – he was pretty average in hindsight at Cardiff City and they only stayed up for one season.
A new goalkeeper should also be on Pardew’s shopping list, as Julian Speroni, while a good goalkeeper, is now 36 and probably only has another year or two left at the top level – even if Wayne Hennessey was to replace him as the starting goalkeeper, Palace would still need a goalkeeper for the bench.
Stoke are one of those clubs who have managed to successfully change their playing style under a different manager – only 13th in the league for long-balls this season! However, their overly rugged midfield play remains, getting over 80 yellow cards awarded to their players this season but also the fewest red cards in the league – a somewhat baffling stat. Mark Hughes has his team playing on the ground much more and they look a more dangerous team away from home because of this.
Jon Walters and Marko Arnautovic are an effective wing combination, scoring and assisting a number of goals through both pacy and rugged play. Peter Crouch also scored some goals up front (setting a new record for most headed goals in the process), while the midfield and defence also showed some skill at containing teams. Charlie Adam also looks a much improved player at Stoke than he did during his time at Liverpool. Bojan Krkic also looked very good at the start of the season until it was ended by injury – the former Barcelona and Roma playmaker added some skill and pace to the attacking midfield and Stoke may well have finished higher this season had he not gotten injured.
Steven N’Zonzi has also improved under Hughes, showing more willingness to run with the ball from midfield, but, in my opinion, needs to curb his fiery temperament a little to be more effective. Glenn Whelan also had a decent season – granted, he is not my favourite player, but he does a job effectively for Stoke by breaking up opposition attacks in midfield. Mame Biram Diouf, formerly of Manchester United, looks a far better player now with Mark Hughes as Stoke’s manager, scoring a number of quality goals over the course of the campaign.
Where Stoke do need to improve is in having different options. They need at least one more skilful attacking midfielder (they lost a little something in their play after Bojan got injured) as well as more options in the middle of the park to change it up more against different opponents – a quick striker would also not go amiss. Forgotten man Wilson Palacios has departed the club already, while central defender Philipp Wollscheid signed permanently following his loan from Bayer Leverkusen ending.
The one first-team player who may well leave is Asmir Begovic, due to ongoing contract wrangling between his agent and the club – Stoke may well still cash in on the experienced Bosnian stopper, who unfortunately did not help his case by having a comparatively poor season in comparison to the recent past, before he can leave for free next summer. If he leaves, a replacement will have to be found as I don’t think Stoke can rely on young stopper Jack Butland yet to start in every match. Stoke achieved their record points haul in the Premier League this past season, achieving 54 points – they are not far off in challenging for the Europa League places and just need two or three different options to get there in my opinion.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know!
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.