Month: May 2013

5 players Crystal Palace should sign to ensure Premier League survival

As a Crystal Palace fan, I was, to put it mildly, delighted when Kevin Phillips thrashed home a typically unerring penalty to secure promotion to the promised lands of the Premier League. While disappointed slightly to leave behind the Championship, I will enjoy the coming season and will remain an avid Championship follower.

For now, I want to discuss 5 signings which I think Palace should try and make to boost their squad. I doubt, financially and realistically, they’d be able to get them all if any, I’m just trying to show the level of ambition needed in the transfer window to stay above the dotted line.

1) Adam Le Fondre

I don’t really need to say a lot here. He’s proven. He’s lethal. He’s a possible future Kevin Phillips if a club takes a chance on him. And why not? He scores goals wherever he goes and Reading might well have got more points than they did if he played every game. In the absence of Glenn Murray, Palace need proven firepower, and a move for ALF would benefit everyone: Palace would have a void upfront filled and ALF would get the Premier League game time he craves and deserves. He should be one of the first players Ian Holloway signs.

2) Ben Davies

Palace’s problem position this season has been at full-back. Joel Ward has proven himself to be solid after returning from an injury lay-off, and when he has not played, either an off-form Jazz Richards or an out-of-position Kagisho Dikgacoi has deputised. On the opposite flank, Johnny Parr has been epic with his electrifying pace and brilliant early crossing, but defensively he has been shambolic, leaving him often on the bench while the safer option Dean Moxey has played. If Swansea were willing to negotiate for Ben Davies, it would be a coup. He has been excellent all season but may find himself out in the cold, what with Neil Taylor returning to fitness and Diego Tiendalli penning a fresh deal. Signing Davies would also allow Palace to develop Parr into a fully fledged winger to replace Wilfried Zaha, or at least cover for his absence.

3) Charlie Adam

Charlie Adam hasn’t had the greatest season at Stoke, but he will have been largely bypassed by their hoofball tactics. With QPR legend Mark Hughes incoming, I’m expecting a giant, ineffective shake-up, with many big, overrated names coming in and the old guard that served Tony Pulis moving on. Charlie Adam, for one, would be very wise to jump ship to play under Ian Holloway. They worked together at Blackpool, where Adam played some of his best football, and a renewed link-up may well be what he needs to relight that spark he once had. If that were to happen then Palace would have a very, very capable player on their books. The only issue would be the transfer fee and wages.

4) Shaun Maloney

Recently relegated Wigan are going to struggle to hold on to their more prized assets, and the most coveted of these will be Shaun Maloney. Him and Callum McManaman were the two shining lights in the season that finally saw them succumb to the drop, and out of the two Maloney is probably the one that Palace would require the most. Since Owen Garvan has returned to the team, he has lost some of that creativity that provided Palace with many of their goals at the start of the season, and they would be looking to reinstate that creativity by either working closely with Garvan to improve his ability on the ball and his range of passing, or by signing a player with genuine quality who would come at a relatively cheap price. The problem they would have is fending off other suitors for his signature.

5) Aiden McGeady

This is the one player I think Steve Parish should go all out to sign. A fast, tricky winger with two fantastic feet, McGeady is the ideal replacement for Zaha, and also (currently) a better player, so it would also be an improvement. Look at some of the things he does in the clip, and you’ll see that he’s pretty much a Zaha with an end product. He is currently plying his trade at Spartak Moscow, where hasn’t been playing a lot of football this season, so he could seek a Premier League move to play more regular football. Not to mention, it is Russia he plays in, a country that’s more famous for it’s controversy at football games than the actual games themselves. The only issue here is that he may want to move to a more established Premier League side as opposed to one recently promoted, as his ability would demand.

Of course, there are a slew of other options, such as Maynor Figueroa, Matt Kilgallon, Albert Adomah, Tom Ince, Matt Phillips and possible loans such as Nick Powell, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake, and the possible re-return of Zaha, but I genuinely feel that these five players should be at the top of Holloway’s radar.

What do you think? Is there a player who you would expect, or would like to see, pulling on the red and blue jersey next season?


5 reasons why the Championship is better than the Premier League

1) Anyone has a chance of winning or losing

This one is fairly self explanatory: in the Premier League, one of Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea is going to win the league and they’ll also probably accommodate the top three places too, like in the last three seasons. The relegation battle has also been a little tepid recently, as we haven’t seen a proper scrap for two seasons now. In the Championship, anything can happen to anyone; with 3 games to go, half of the league were threatened by relegation, and only a few teams had nothing to play for. The only thing that wasn’t decided on the last day was the winners of the league. This season, Wolves were relegated, a team that was playing Premier League football just one season prior, while Crystal Palace nearly went out of business three years ago and are now vying for promotion with Watford. And for those saying that this sort of stuff happens in the Premier League: look at Portsmouth. Look at Bradford. Leeds. Southampton. Teams that had to spend more than they had to achieve were in peril and didn’t have a hope of staying in the league. Portsmouth are now in League 2, Bradford are just beginning to recover, Leeds are stuck in the Championship scrap and Southampton have this next point to thank for their re-ascent up the mountain. New Premier League teams are either trapped in mid-table insecurity, or plummet all the way down the leagues.

2) Best youth systems have to be in the Championship

The best youth systems are in the Championship. I’m not so much talking about right now, but young players in the youth systems have always been allowed to shine in the Championship. I’m going to use Crystal Palace as a current example, and Southampton as a previous example. Crystal Palace have created so many good players over the years from their lowly Championship status. Think an Andy Johnson in his prime. Ben Watson, winner of the FA Cup for Wigan. Nathaniel Clyne, who must have England caps in his future. Wilfried Zaha, about to embark on a journey at Manchester United. Johnny Williams is making a name for himself in the first team. One name that hasn’t been mentioned is John Bostock, once a player with limitless potential who is now wasting away in the Spurs reserves because he jumped to the Premier League far too soon: he needed at least one Championship season. Compare this to teams such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Spurs and QPR who have little youth in their starting lineups. Southampton, back in their Championship days, have produced some of the Premier Leagues better players. Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale both came through the ranks at Southampton and made their debuts in the Championship – Bale is now widely considered to be one of the best players in the world. Look now at the Premier League. Aside from perhaps Manchester United and West Ham, they buy their youth from abroad and the lower leagues. Raheem Stirling was bought from a pre-shit QPR, Zaha from Palace, Conor Wickham from Ipswich, Leighton Baines was a Wigan youth player. In summary, a lot of players that have come through to be some of the best in the Premier League have had been blooded in the Championship first.

3) Careers are made and destroyed

One thing I have noticed is the amount of players who weren’t getting enough playing time in the Premier League looking to rebuild their careers in the Championship. Some have succeeded with aplomb, some have failed. Men are separated from boys here. Those who can adapt to the physicality and competitive nature of the division survive, those who can’t get lost. Two prime examples are two players who have re-found what made them England internationals at Brighton: Wayne Bridge and Matthew Upson. Wayne Bridge has wasted a lot of his career as second fiddle to the likes of Ashley Cole, Aleksandar Kolarov, and Gael Clichy. A loan spell at Sunderland did nothing to help his form. Now, he has found the form that he once showed at Southampton, and he has adapted to what Gus Poyet demanded and what the Championship demanded. Same goes for Upson, who found himself as fourth choice centre back at Stoke having left West Ham as their first choice centre back. He also as adapted well to the Championship, and is part of the reason why Brighton have the best defensive record. You can even look at all the Manchester United youth players in Hull and Leicester’s squads, and how much they’ve done for their careers by dropping down a division. Compare these two to the likes of David Bentley, who had been in wretched form for West Ham in 2011-12 and Blackburn this season, and the Premier League remnants of the Wolves team, who have completely disgraced themselves and the managers they have seen off. The same can be said for a lot of the Blackburn players; favourites to go up, they spend a lot of the seasons endowed with controversy and managerial changes, but the players didn’t perform amongst all that.

4) It’s not about money and big name signings

If I hate anything about football, it’s money, and what it does to the arrogant primadonnas people call Premier League footballers. QPR will unfortunately grace the Championship next season; when I say unfortunately, I don’t mean it’s unfortunate that they’ve been relegated, I mean that it’s unfortunate that fans of other Championship clubs have to watch their team play them twice, because honestly they have to be the biggest team of overrated, overpaid, passionless scumbags to ever grace a football pitch. It’s says a hell of a lot that not even Harry Redknapp could get them to perform as a team. Most of them are sitting on a contract worth over 50K a week: Rob Green, Jose Bosingwa, Chris Samba, Bobby Zamora, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Esteban Granero, Park Ji-Sung, Junior Hoilett are all deserving of about £10 a week based on their shameful performances this season. Only Loic Remy and Julio Cesar have performed even slightly to the standards that their wages suggest. On the day of their relegation, Bosingwa, who has been the biggest disgrace of the disgracers this season, was actually laughing. Does he not care about how his fans must feel? Their season tickets cost £550, why not repay that money by actually trying. Don’t even get me started on the likes of Luis Suarez and Samir Nasri; as brilliant as Suarez is, you would never hear about an incident of biting in the Championship. Samir Nasri has been god awful this season, amost acting as a placeholder in the starting XI. In the Championship, it’s about the squad, it’s about how well they play together. Hull shouldn’t have gone up based on their squad, but Steve Bruce has worked some serious magic, and you could see that the understanding between the players was very strong. A lot of other teams have carried their League 1 players into the division too, such as Brighton, and we’ve already discussed Palace’s youth system. All in all, the Championship isn’t about spending money on awful players like Bosingwa just because he’s a big name. It’s about winning and nothing else. And if you want a serious counter argument, £8m and £4m for Jordan Rhodes and Leon Best, and Blackburn finished where?

5) There’s a surprise result every weekend

How often to do see a shock in the Premier League? Maybe once a month? In the Championship there’s shocks everywhere. Relegated Peterborough did the double over Cardiff. Barnsley went to St. Andrews and won 5-0. Ipswich suffered two 6-0 losses. A 5-4 win for Charlton over Cardiff. Leeds coming away from Watford with a 2-1 win. The fact that Crystal Palace won as many games as they did is surprising. I could go on, but I won’t. I can name 6 shocking results over an entire season of Premier League football: Spurs winning 3-2 at Old Trafford, Norwich beating Man U 1-0, Norwich winning 3-2 at Manchester City, QPR winning 1-0 at Chelsea, Villa beating Sunderland 6-1, and West Brom coming from 3 goals down twice to draw 5-5 with Man U. Most other results were pretty predictable in some way. The Championship will always throw up a surprise because there’s no predicting what will happen. All bets are off. And let’s face it, with the money invested in the club, it’d be a shock of QPR lost a game next season, so there’s more twists and turns to come from the division.

East Midlands Battle: The 2013/14 race for promotion

Throughout the course of the 2012/13 season, it’s reasonable to suggest that the three East Midlands teams were all at one stage within the promotion mix. Nottingham Forest missed out on the play-offs by 1 point, Leicester City succumbed to a brutal counter-attack deep into injury time in their play-off second leg, whilst Derby County were a case in point of just how tight the Championship is, finishing 10th with 7 points from both relegation and 6th place. In this blog piece, I’ll evaluate each team and their chances of promotion in what is fast becoming one of the best leagues in the world (no hyperbole intended).

Derby County

In some ways progression, in other ways more of the same. 10th spot is manager Nigel Clough’s highest league finish as Derby manager, and the general consensus amongst the coaching staff and Rams fans is that performances have improved since the 11/12 season’s 12th place finish. However, it is once again an extremely poor showing away from home which has cost Derby a concerted promotion challenge. Whilst winning 12 games at home (their best home record since the 06/07 promotion season), just 4 wins away equated to the third worst away record in the whole division; as Derby manager Clough has never won more than 7 games away from home in a season.

Derby fans still clamour for a Billy Sharp-style 20 goal a season striker, yet only Crystal Palace and Leicester City have scored more league goals at home this season. The statistics speak for themselves with regard to where Derby need to improve next season; 22 goals scored and 40 conceded on the road. Investment has been tight under Clough’s reign, with the now longest-serving manager in the Championship forced to sell Jason Shackell last season in order to finance moves for Player of the Year Richard Keogh and Michael Jacobs, but quality signings at centre-back, right wing and up front, along with the retention of key players such as John Brayford and Will Hughes, should make Derby strong contenders for the play-offs.

12/13 Player of the Year: Richard Keogh

12/13 Top goalscorer: Jamie Ward (12)

My 13/14 prediction: 11th. Significant investment of around £2-3 million could make a world of difference, but consistently poor away form in a fiercely competitive league has cost Derby moving up the table in the past, and if it is not addressed it is unlikely that next season will be much different.

One to watch: Will Hughes. The 17 year old chalked up a run of 37 consecutive appearances before injury in February halted his progress. Hughes was lauded not just for his mature displays but his flair, technique and skill, leading to rumours that Barcelona were preparing a dossier on him. Recently linked with a £10 million move to Manchester City, Hughes will be crucial both to Derby’s style of play and their promotion chances next season

Nottingham Forest

Until Blackburn Rovers quickly took their mantle, Nottingham Forest were widely understood to be adhering to the Roman Abramovich model of managerial relations. After an impressive 4-2 Boxing Day win over Leeds United and just 1 point shy of the play-offs, Forest dispensed with Sean O’Driscoll’s services, curiously appointing Alex McLeish as his replacement. One month later, and McLeish quit after the Forest board had vetoed the transfer of Peterborough midfielder George Boyd after the play had apparently “failed an eye test”. Briefly a laughing stock, the appointment of former manager Billy Davies lead to an immediate upturn in fortunes, with Forest winning 6 games on the bounce and undefeated in 10 matches before a 3-0 defeat to Cardiff.

A last minute 3-2 defeat to play-off rivals Leicester City on the final game of the season (coupled with results elsewhere) meant that Forest finished 8th and 1 point outside of the play-offs. With the 11/12 season’s terrible showing aside, the Reds have been chasing promotion since 2009, finishing in the play-off spots in the 09/10 and 10/11 seasons. Significant investment is likely in the summer (with large portions of the squad on loan), although Forest’s wealthy owners may well be conscious of incoming Financial Fair Play regulations. Davies has developed somewhat of a habit of taking teams into the play-offs (with varying sizes of resources), doing the feat twice each with Preston and Forest, along with gaining promotion with Derby; it would be foolish to bet against them contending next season. Formidable home form in conjunction with ‘solid’ if unspectacular away form has always been a prominent feature of Davies’ track record, but will his abrasive personality and relations with board members (which lead in part to his sacking in 2011: end in tears once again?

12/13 Player of the Year: Chris Cohen

12/13 Top goalscorer: Billy Sharp (11)

My 13/14 prediction: 6th. Despite often suffering from a poor start and a limping end to the season, Davies has developed a winning habit at most of the teams he has managed, regularly chalking up impressive strings of victories on the bounce. A talented squad with more investment to come should see Forest challenging once again.

One to watch: Adlene Guedioura. Known for his play-making abilities and an eye for spectacular goals, Guedioura is popular amongst the Forest faithful. With Premier League pedigree for Wolverhampton Wanderers, his performances within a talented Forest midfield will be crucial to any promotion push next season.



Leicester City

Leicester City’s season epitomised the topsy-turvy nature of the Championship. Second place in the league in late January, they recorded just 1 win in 12 before  clinching 6th spot on goal difference after a dramatic late 3-2 victory away at Nottingham Forest on the last day of the season. With Nigel Pearson back as manager, Leicester have at times this season been renowned for their solidity as well as impressive attacking displays. Like Forest, they have aimed for the Premier League since 2009 where they finished an impressive 5th in their first season after promotion from League 1. In between significant investment, play-off disappointment and high profile management (think Sven-Goran Eriksson), they have somewhat found their way again.

Leading 1-0 going into the second leg of their play-off match against Watford, their traumatic defeat has been well documented: Yet more managerial upheaval will not help, with Nigel Pearson’s second tenure in charge rumoured to be under threat. The King Power Stadium remains a fortress (13 home wins this season and 46 goals), but with 6 wins away Leicester won 1 fewer on the road than relegated Peterborough and Wolves, highlighting room for improvement. Leicester also need to avoid the dreadful end to this season, which arguably sapped them of the kind of momentum which has benefitted the likes of Blackpool in recent years going into play-off campaigns.

12/13 Player of the Year: Wes Morgan

12/13 Top goalscorer: Nugent (16)

My 13/14 prediction: 8th. With strong teams coming down from the Premier League and up from League 1, Leicester’s promotion credentials are by no means assured. Sacking Pearson could lead to instability, and they will need to hope that Wood and Nugent can fire on a regular basis again. Expect them to challenge, but fall just short again in a competitive league.

One to watch: Chris Wood. Something of a footballing nomad despite aged just 21, Wood notched an impressive 11 goals in 19 Championship games on loan for Millwall before a permanent switch to the Foxes, where he scored 6 goals in his first 3 games before finishing the season on 11 goals. With a misfiring forward line to the end of the season, a return to the kind of form which lead to Wood’s signature for Leicester will be key next season.

Play-off round up and 5 key battles to watch

The unpredictable nature of England’s second-tier continued past the close of the season when bookies favourites Brighton and Leicester were both eliminated by the unfancied Crystal Palace and Watford respectively. If this proves anything, it is that momentum going into the play-offs means absolutely jack all.

Brighton came into their bout with Palace with an average of 2.14 points per game since the start of April, over double Palace’s 1 point. While Palace proved that form was irrelevant, Watford proved that momentum meant nothing in a nervy contest with a thrilling ending at Vicarage Road. Leicester had come into the playoffs buoyed by an away win at local rivals Nottingham Forest, while Watford had lost to Leeds in dramatic fashion. The “wounded cat” hypothesis seemingly busted. It actually seems that completely irrelevant, superstitious facts have more of a say. Here are some facts to be skeptical about: over all the play-off competitions, the teams that have finished 3rd (60%) and 5th (55%), Watford and Palace, have made the final more often than the teams that finished 4th (45%) and 6th (40%), Brighton and Leicester. In fact, Brighton’s demise may well have been written in the stars as the team that has finished 4th has not won promotion since Charlton in 1998, while 5 of the last 8 winners have finished 3rd.

Going into the final, both teams will be on a high after their wins. After we thought we would never see the likes of what went down at Griffin Park again, we witnessed lightning strike twice within the space of a month as Troy Deeney struck after Anthony Knockaert gave Nigel Pearson yet another penalty headache (if you need reminding, click here).

In my last post, I mentioned throughout how Brighton were by far the best team on paper; which is a shame, because their team forgot to turn up. Palace were the better side in both second halves (the first half of each game isn’t even worth mentioning), and despite losing Glenn Murray to a freak knee injury in the first leg, they bounced back with aplomb, Zaha bagging a brace to secure an unlikely win at the AmEx. What will have impressed Holloway the most is an even more unlikely aggregate clean sheet, thanks in part to the heroics of the evergreen Julian Speroni from Ashley Barnes. Poyet is now rumoured to be considering his position as Brighton boss after stating in his post-match interview that he had “hit the roof”. Everton may await.

Both teams coming up against each other on such a high will result in what can only be an epic clash full of passion, determination, and hopefully a few goals. Zola, having been able to watch both of Palace’s games, will have been able to identify the cracks in the Palace formation, and Holloway will be doing the same now. I would discuss head-to-head records, etc., but that would be a waste of time, as we have seen numerous times previously. Here are 5 key battles to watch out for in the final:

1. Ikechi Anya and Marco Cassetti vs Dean Moxey and Wilfried Zaha

Watford lined up 3-5-2 against Leicester, and, as it worked, I would expect them to use it again. Holloway would have identified an out-of-position Ikechi Anya at wing-back as the focus of Zaha’s attacking movement. Much like he did with Inigo Calderon, anticipate Zaha looking to get Anya or covering centre-back Marco Cassetti in the book as early as possible, which would either make the game easier for him or force Zola into a tactical change he won’t want to make. Similarly, Anya is one of the best attacking wingers in the division, and Dean Moxey will need to produce the same caliber of performance that he did against Will Buckley if he is to keep him quiet.

2. Aaron Wilbraham vs Joel Ekstrand

A non-entity for much of season, Aaron Wilbraham (or Abraham, as the match commentator inadvertently dubbed him) will likely find himself leading the line at Wembley barring a miracle recovery for Glenn Murray. He played a good game against Brighton, finding space for a few chances and generally making a nuisance of himself. Joel Ekstrand will be instructed to mark Abraham out of the game, making sure not to let him turn or hold up the play and allow the Palace midfield to make runs.

3. Matej Vydra vs Danny Gabbidon!image/3836107918.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_630/3836107918.jpg

Matej Vydra has been a nightmare for most Championship defences due to his cool finishing, fantastic movement, and confidence in possession. His link-up play with his fellow attackers has been great to watch, and he punished Leicester’s defence for not marshalling him. Danny Gabbidon looked to be the man who stopped Brighton from getting in behind the defence by constantly tracking back, and if he doesn’t do the same again then Vydra will feel more than obliged to punish him.

4. Nathaniel Chalobah vs Owen Garvan

Gianfranco Zola has seen Palace play twice now and will have identified a rusty looking Owen Garvan as Palace’s key weakness. His passing has been a little off since his return from injury, as has his movement, and if he starts in the final then Nathaniel Chalobah is going to have a field day winning the ball off him and bombing forward with it. With Stephen Dobbie returning and Johnny Williams nearing full fitness, Holloway has options if he feels he needs them.

5. Gianfranco Zola vs Ian Holloway

Many will agree when I say that 90% of the reason why Palace are going to Wembley is Ian Holloway’s half-time team talks. On Football Manager, delivering a passionate team talk doesn’t always work, but Holloway makes it work every time. Zola’s tactics have been largely spot on this season, and he has a lot of strength in depth in his squad if he needs to change things around. In my eyes, Zola has to tell his players that is it imperative for his team to come in at half time in the lead, or risk Palace running them into the ground.

I personally think that Watford have the quality to see this one through, but not over 90 minutes. They’ll score a goal at some stage in injury time and Palace will be too tired to recover. Make note of the 27th of May, you will not want to miss this for anything.

Prediction: Watford 3-2 Palace (a.e.t.)