Manchester City host Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace in this Saturday’s early kick-off, the first of three back-to-back home games at the Etihad that Guardiola’s side will look to take advantage of in order to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
City must be extremely wary of Palace, who have beaten both champions-in-waiting Chelsea and Liverpool away in their last three trips on the road, proving they know how to take a big scalp.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Jim. Not long left of the season now and Crystal Palace currently sit in 16th place in the table. Can you tell us about your season so far?
I could but to remember the first half of the season might send me into a depressive spiral. We were sold so many promises at the start of the season about Top 10 finishes, and Europe, and cup runs and by mid November when City game to Selhurst it was clear everything was falling apart around Alan Pardew. A month later and he was sacked with Palace in yet another relegation battle when really, four consecutive seasons in the Premier League, we should be moving away from that now. But yet again, a new manager arrived mid-season and has steered us away from the drop. It was Tony Pulis in 2013, Pardew in 2014 and now it’s Sam Allardyce. If we’d had been as consistent all season under Sam as we’ve been in the last four months we’d be eighth I believe. Oh well, classic Palace if anything.
Are you comfortable about the prospect of survival yet?
A study at the Financial Times has given Palace a less than 1% chance of going down… so obviously no I’m not comfortable. And won’t be until it is mathematically impossible for us to go down. Even then I won’t be 100% comfortable because you are never that far away from a points deduction for some crazy reason or another these days; fielding a player ineligibly, having the wrong sort of grass on your pitch, Steve Parish’s hair being swept to the wrong side, etc…
Alan Pardew was released from his post just before Christmas and quickly replaced by ex-England manager, Sam Allardyce, as The Eagles’ head coach. Do you think this was the right decision in retrospect?
Yes. A thousand times yes. Pards will argue he would have turned it around at some point and it’s true that his career has always been a bit streaky in terms of winning runs and defeats. But most Palace fans agree that even if that had happened, it probably would come been too late. Pardew lost the dressing room and the crowd when his side went 4-3 up at Swansea in November in the 90th minute and lost 5-4. It was schoolboy defending and he didn’t have a clue what to do. Allardyce isn’t the perfect repalcement; no-one ever wants Allardyce, but sometimes you need Allardyce and we did.
How has Big Sam taken to the role?
Like a man to a pint of wine. He’s imposed himself and done things his way and anyone who disagrees be damned. West Ham fans warned us he wouldn’t give a shit what the fans think and that’s been true, even despite letting Sunderland score four goals against us in one half. He’s slowly been proved right, though, and those wins against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are proof he knows what he’s doing. Palace fans are starting to chant “Allardyce’s Red and Blue Army” which is a sign they’ve accepted him as their lord and saviour finally.
Palace were busy in the January transfer window bringing in a host of new faces to the club, including Van Aanholt, Schlupp and Mamadou Sakho on loan. What have you made of the recent signings?
Sakho is already a god amongst Palace fans, despite playing just eight time. He has profited from the fact we had no defenders like him and were desperate for a big, imposing leader at the back. He was perfect for the Eagles and everyone hope’s he will sign permanently in the summer. PVA and Jeffrey have both been solid when called upon and are more an indication that to survival at this level you need two Premier League quality players in every position. Now just to do the same at right-back, goalkeeper, centre-mid, right wing, left wing, number 10 and up front…
Wilfried Zaha has again been linked with a move to potentially a ‘Top 6’ club in the summer. Is the winger good enough in your opinion? Would he be an asset to City?
Honestly, he’s be an asset anywhere but only if he is used right. Man United proved they didn’t know what to do with him (or bother to work it out) and I worry Spurs might be the same. He needs attention, he needs to be the big dog, he needs love. I worry he won’t get that anywhere else than Selhurst Park at the moment. He is essentially a young boy in a man’s body and needs to be near his mates, and South London family (both literally and figuratively). But yes, he would fit in at City. Imagine Sterling on one wing, Wilf on the other and KDB through the middle…
Who are going to be the key players for Palace when the teams meet this weekend?
Wilf of course, but for a game where we are going to be pinned back and trying to withstand constant pressure, it’s Luka Milivojevic and Yohan Cabaye that we need to shine. They sit in front of the back four and when they are on their game they build an impenetrable wall. They did it at Stamford Bridge and even N’Golo Kante couldn’t find a way through. Cabaye has missed the last two games and Luka looked a bit lost without him (surprise, surprise we lost both). Hopefully he is back on Saturday.
What are your thoughts on Pep’s debut season in England?
Disappointing by his standards. He is a winner, for lack of a more verbose description. He always wins trophies and isn’t going to win anything this season. But he’ll get time, I imagine, to stamp his style on the team over the next few years. I like him a lot and have a lot of respect for him (more so for his sartorial choices than anything). I think he will win things at City, just hopefully not three points on Saturday.
Do you expect him to eventually lead the club to heights not reached before?
I think he is your best chance of winning the Champions League which I know is the big aim for City. But you’re a few players short of a team good enough to do that yet in my opinion.
Finally, please could you give us your predicted starting line-up and what you think the final score will be?
Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Delaney, Van Aanholt; Cabaye, Milivojevic; Zaha, Puncheon, Townsend, Benteke