What Can Tottenham Expect Against Palace?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace in action during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion at Selhurst Park on August 13, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace in action during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion at Selhurst Park on August 13, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images) /

No Premier League team starts the season as they expected, and Tottenham’s match against Crystal Palace on Saturday is a near perfect example.

Lingering injuries, fitness concerns, new personnel, new management and a slew of other concerns can obscure any budding quality. Even the best teams might not find their footing until September or October.

We’ve diagnosed Tottenham’s issues at length this past week. Fitness and form are primary concerns after the Euros and a short pre-season for most of the starting XI. In time Mauricio Pochettino’s preferred starter will find a grove and — they hope — rediscover their fine form from last season.

Alan Pardew might not share the same level of optimism. Though they pushed Manchester United into extra time in the FA Cup, Crystal Palace have been one of the worst teams in the 2016 calendar year. They have recorded precisely two wins since January in the Premier League.

A stellar first half to last season softened the blow, but there was no question coming into the 2016/17 season that something had to change. With Pardew unable to find consistency in any part of his team last term, his future at the club is dependent on how he responds to last term.

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The biggest area of concern for virtually all of last season was at striker. Pardew and his Palace benefactors had stocked the team with wingers. Yannick Bolasie, Wilifred Zaha, Jason Puncheon, Chung-Yong Lee and Bakary Sako all competed for essentially two positions. Oftentimes Pardew was forced to deploy one of these players in a less familiar role just to fit the most quality as possible into his team.

There’s no issue with relying on a collection of wingers and inside forwards — provided they know how to score. The five aforementioned Palace wingers combined for a total of 12 league goals last campaign. It’s no surprise that Palace ended the term tied for the third lowest goals scored.

Now, after that meager haul, one would think that Palace’s priority would be clear. The club needed an outlet for all these wingers, someone to get on the end of their crosses and/or distract opposition defenses enough to create space.

Instead, among the club’s first orders of business this summer was the acquisition of former Tottenham winger Andros Townsend. A pacy, young-ish England international is certainly valuable, but this was a supremely curious move. How would bringing in another chronically goal shy winger address the problems at the core of Palace’s terrible 2016?

Of course, Townsend was brought in to make possible the sale of Bolasie to Everton — a deal completed just this week. The proceeds from that sale seem to have been directly diverted to acquiring Christian Benteke from Liverpool.

Benteke’s Liverpool sojourn notwithstanding, he’s a dangerous man to have in a team like Palace who crowds the opposition’s half with attackers.

Tottenham will feel relieved, then, that it appears as if said deal will not be completed in time to register the big Belgian for Saturday’s match. Pochettino can plan to face a Palace side very similar to the dead fish that flopped down the table last season.

Which isn’t to say this is an automatic win. Despite suffering defeat in last week’s opener against West Brom, Pardew’s side played well. Townsend himself looked particularly dangerous.

He matched West Brom’s goalscorer, Salomón Rondón, with six shots and two on target. With a further six tackles and three interceptions, Townsend was also disciplined enough to help contain West Brom when they did deign to attack.

Tottenham will shape their defensive efforts around keeping their academy product contained. In the corresponding fixture last season, Pochettino named Ben Davies at left-back in response to Palace’s threats from out wide. It wouldn’t be too shocking to see him opt for the Welshman again over Danny Rose.

Yohan Cabaye and Joe Ledley should both start for Palace in central midfield. That’s a pairing that should prompt Pochettino to name a more progressive pair than Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier. Tottenham need to have forward thrust in deeper midfield to keep those two players from servicing Palace’s menagerie of wingers. Ryan Mason might be the man to provide it.

Further up the pitch, Tottenham will feel lucky that Palace’s defensive newcomers don’t yet appear fit to play. Centre-back James Tomkins and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda are clear upgrades that will serve Palace well in the long run. For Saturday, though, they will have to rely on Damien Delaney and Wayne Hennessey.

Next: Tottenham: Pochettino Discusses Topics

Harry Kane — or possible Vincent Janssen — will be looking to create space in the middle. With Tottenham’s left-back likely occupied with Townsend, Christian Eriksen will have a mandate to drift into wider positions.

Seeing how well Everton did with defending narrowly last weekend, Palace are likely to do the same. Eriksen’s efforts from out wide could therefore prove vital. Stretching play and sending balls into the box for Kane should nullify the benefits of crowding the center of the pitch.