Get the lowdown on Crystal Palace from South London Press journalist Richard Cawley ahead of the EFL Cup game with Southampton.
How have Palace started the season?
I think initially there were a few concerns about the way they had started. There always seems to be a manager they talk about being under pressure and there was a fair bit of talk about that being Alan Pardew, but in recent weeks they’ve really managed to pull it together. They’re now four unbeaten, if you add in the League Cup game against Blackpool, and I think there was a feeling it was always going to take a bit of time to bed down, because it was quite a significant summer, in terms of some of the changes that were made.
Recently, they’ve had Steve Mandanda come into the side in goal. Up front, they’ve had the change there, with Christian Benteke, and even defensively until he got injured the other day James Tomkins perhaps seen as the long-term partner for Scott Dann, so down that spine they’ve recruited and changed quite a bit, so it was always likely to take a little bit of time. But they’ve picked up a couple of very good wins now.
How much of a significant change has it been from last season?
Pardew even last season was talking about this transition away from what they had done before as a team. I suppose they were this side that you would predominantly expect to not dominate possession, but to counter attack dynamically. One thing that hasn’t changed is their threat from set-pieces – they’ve got a lot of height in the side – but they probably thought you can’t keep playing that way year-on-year without eventually getting dragged in, if you don’t get more of the ball. So in the last coupe of matches particularly they’ve kept the ball better and had the lion’s share of possession. That’s not always possible, but that’s definitely the way he wants to move.
How are they approaching the EFL Cup this season?
The side that played against Blackpool, they probably surprised a few people just how strong Alan Pardew went. That might have been to do with the start of the season, because they had lost their opening couple of games and I think there was a feeling they wanted to try to get some kind of result on the board.
Behind the scenes, chairman Steve Parish has kind of said that he doesn’t just want to be in the Premier League to consolidate, they want to try and win a competition. Getting to the FA Cup final last season and going close, I don’t think there’s any reason why they shouldn’t put a strong side out. They’ve got a long trip at the weekend – Sunderland away – so that might come into Pardew’s thinking, but the League Cup is probably the one, first of all, that you look at and think ‘If we get a few rounds in, we’ve got a bit of a chance at it.’
Who have been the team’s key players so far?
Mandanda has stood out in goal. He’s made some important saves in games, and he’s a very confident keeper. You’re not going to be the French number two, behind Hugo Lloris, if you’re not a good goalkeeper. The other one that probably had his best game in a Palace shirt so far was Andros Townsend on Sunday, against Stoke. He scored a great goal and popped up with an assist as well. I think the wide players have always been a strength of Palace since they came up, and Wilfried Zaha has done well too this season.
The other one they’ve missed before is James McArthur. He’s probably quite underrated generally for the job that he does for the team.
Jason Puncheon has been playing well also. Last season he looked a little bit lost to me and didn’t seem to quite fit into the system, but he had loads of touches on Sunday and really played well, so if the new system gets the best out of him that could be massive, because he has that bit of quality.
What sort of a game are you expecting?
I fully expect Palace to come out and try to play their own way. I don’t think they’ll come and sit back. They should have a bit of confidence about them, after what they’ve done in the past few weeks. If you look at the last time they came, it was just before the FA Cup final and I think their attention was elsewhere, understandably. But I think this time they will be a lot more focused on the job ahead of them. Away from home they’ve been good, and I certainly think if he goes with a strong enough side that they’ve got every chance of getting a result and going through.