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Crystal Palace – the new Stoke City?

When Frank De Boer took charge of Palace, most of us expected a complete turnaround in the way Palace played. Selhurst Park is, by no means, an easy place to visit and come away unscathed, but the arrival of the former Ajax coach was to spurn a complete change.

Earlier, Crystal Palace played like the typical away side; they’d sit deep, defend the edge of their penalty box and surrender all possession to the actual away side. During the change of play, a ball would be played over the top, or a long ball along the line of the flank, which Wilfried Zaha or Bacary Sako or Andros Townsend would then chase, looking to get 1v1 with the opposing defender, or perhaps play a cross in for Benteke and hope for the best.

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Another tactic used to be winning set pieces and getting Jason Puncheon to stand behind the ball, and hope that he would put it in the back of the net. De Boer was to bring a fresh, new perspective. Something along the lines of a clam in possession, dynamic with the ball at the feet of the front 3, and defensively gritty foundation. But he couldn’t deliver, partly due to the fact that he was given a very small time period in contrast to the type of the change he was aiming to bring about, the injury in the first game of the season to his central man Zaha also being a key contributor.

Another man who successfully revolutionised not only the style of football being played at his club, but also the tag that was associated with his side. Mark Hughes, who, unfortunately was relieved of his duties by Stoke City following a loss against Coventry, which was engulfed in an air of being both inexplicable and inexorable. The Tony Pulis managed Stoke City had a tag for being physical in their play, and tough in their set up and approach. Mark Hughes changed that, and replaced it with a style of football, that, until the present season, had been the envy of several bottom half Premier League clubs.

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The strides he made in the transfer window were second to none, and he contributed immensely to display the attractive potential of the English top division, with his highly impressive and rather audacious signings of Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan, Eric Maxim Chupo Moting and Jese Rodriguez, blending their technical ability with the existing skill set of players like Charlie Adam, Peter Crouch, Glenn Johnson and the like, who went about the pitch with a sort of ‘know how’ about how to get the job done. The fact that he brought a whole new dynamic to the phrase, “Can they do it on a cold, windy night in Stoke?” is in itself  testament to his success.

Crystal Palace, around two weeks ago, became only the 2nd side this season to take points off Manchester City, with a very, very different and rather shocking headline awaiting, had Luka Milivojevic kept his 90’ spot kick a little more central. The defensive resilience that Palace showed in that game was only one of the best approaches I’ve seen this season to counteracting City’s free scoring front line. Whilst the likes of Tottenham and Stoke tried to go toe-to-toe with Man City, United and Chelsea sat back and played on the counter, Palace went with a very slight tweak of the mix of both approaches. They sat back and defended the width of the 18 yard box, and allowed City to have all the width they so desired.

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By crowding out the entire interior of the penalty box, effectively choking Aguero of all supply, they forced City to go back to the centre, and take on their keeper from 20-30 yards away. It was here that Cabaye and Milivojevic, aided by the contribution of Fosu Mensah and the rest of the Palace back line, pressed the City players (As soon as the cut back was initiated). Since they would press in pairs, it would force Gundogan and De Bruyne to abandon any ideas of a shot, but rather to go back to their centre halves / full backs and try and recycle the attack. The resilience carried on for the entire duration of the 90 minutes, which was easily the most noticeable attribute displayed by Palace on the day, a hurdle Huddersfield and Southampton had fallen at earlier in the season.

Combined with the defensive solidity, Palace occasionally found themselves attacking City, working the ball from side to side, as they tried to force Danilo into a mistake. It was clearly a tactical move, as the Brazilian was playing out of position, and also playing after spending a significant time on the bench. They did have their chances down City’s left flank, with Ederson called into action once or twice, before Andros Townsend failed to convert a tap in at the far post.

Kyle Walker miraculously turned into Superman on the turn of play, chasing back at top speed, exhibiting some supreme degree of strength to shove Zaha off the ball again, and again, and again. Although the move came about much later than it should have, Zaha was asked to swap flanks to stop Walker running circles around him, in a bid to get him involved into the attack. Palace got their reward, albeit wrongfully so, as Zaha went down theatrically under minimal contact to win Palace a chance to become only the second team this season in the world to come away with a win against Man City.

With the result, Palace can now boast a home record under Hodgson that has seen them beat Chelsea, draw to Man City, lose out narrowly to Arsenal and take valuable points off numerous fellow strugglers. Selhurst Park may not always have the cold, chilly rain drops falling, or the unrelenting, tyrannous winds blowing about their stadium, but I strongly feel that with the right recruitment in the summer, and time being afforded to Hodgson to continue his project, Palace may well turn Selhurst Park into a fortress of sorts, and effectively become the new Stoke City at home.

Written by Ayush Verma.

Ayush Verma

20. Student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Manchester City correspondent for 90MAAT

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