By Simon Mills
It appears I jumped the gun a little last week when I said all the transfers were done and dusted! I think everyone at Palace was a little disappointed another midfielder didn’t come in before the end of deadline day, especially when a top quality player in the ilk of Jack Wilshere seemed so tantalisingly close.
So it was brilliant to see Mathieu Flamini come in until the end of the season.
Mathieu is a player I have admired for a long time. He was a consistently strong performer for Arsenal and his key role during their successful FA Cup and Champions League (finalists) seasons still stick in my mind. Losing a cult figure like Mile Jedinak was difficult, but to replace him with another real leader is a big positive in my book. I look forward to seeing him grace the Selhurst Park pitch in a Palace shirt.
Sadly, there was also a hammer blow after such a good window. Loic Remy, who we were all still working ourselves up over the prospect of watching play, managed to tear a muscle in his thigh and leave us all hanging for the next couple of months. He’s gone back to Chelsea to recover in the meantime.
Given he is still officially their player, it makes sense for them to treat their ‘asset’ and I don’t think it will do too much harm for him to get treatment at a world class setup.
We therefore head into the weekend with one new option and one less option. Middlesbrough will provide a tough test and even before the season started most pundits were tipping Boro to stay up ahead of their promoted counterparts. They have managed to build an excellent squad, starting in the championship, and they added to that in the recent window with some real quality and, importantly, top-level experience.
The one that stands head and shoulders above the others in most football fans’ eyes is the loan acquisition of Alvaro Negredo, formerly of Manchester City. He may have only spent that solitary title-winning season with the Citizens but he scored an impressive 23 goals in 48 appearances. Big, strong and with that keen instinct for goal, the front man will undoubtedly be the chief concern of Alan Pardew’s men on Saturday. Not only from a scoring perspective, but his uncanny ability of holding the ball and bringing others into play, he is just as good at creating chances as he is at finishing them.
Palace, meanwhile, will have to consider how they approach this game with such importance being placed on gaining that first win of the season. The longer the winless streak goes on, the more edgy things will become and the more nerves will fray. Personally, I feel it’s time we went back to a 4-5-1, playing with 2 central midfielders and someone behind the striker. Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham are similar types of players, in terms of role, which doesn’t really suit playing both up front together.
It’s actually getting harder to pick our starting eleven these days. Wayne Hennessey is fit again, but it’s hard to look past the impressive Steve Mandanda. Martin Kelly is really pushing Joel Ward for that starting berth at right back and with James Tomkins’ arrival in the summer the competition is heating up between himself and Damien Delaney to partner skipper (and goal machine) Scott Dann in the heart of the defence. It’s probably too early to expect Flamini to slot straight into midfield, although with Yohan Cabaye and James McArthur recently struggling with injuries anything is possible.
The biggest question for me is who takes up that position behind the striker. Lee Chung-yong has been impressive in his appearances this season, but tends to roam and leave too big a gap between striker and midfield, while Jason Puncheon has been preferred either in a deeper role or out wide this season.
One wonders if we could see a return of Jordan Mutch, who I feel given the chance and a run of games could surprise many who may have dismissed him early on.
However we set up, we should not expect an easy time at the Riverside. As a former resident of the area (for a very brief stint as a young lad) myself, I know the locals are passionate about their football and the team is starting to reflect that once again. Long gone are the days when teams would come up from the Championship, roll over and let the established teams walk all over them. We need a performance and we certainly need the 3 points!
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