West Brom-Crystal Palace Preview
The first half of the 2015-16 Premier League season went about as well as any Crystal Palace fan or pundit could have predicted. The club held their head high in fifth place on New Year's Day.
Then the bottom fell out.
Alan Pardew's Eagles collected just two points in January, February and March combined, and if not for a win and three draws in April, they would have slid into the relegation battle.
Pardew will encourage his boys to remember how things went during the first half of that season when they begin this one at Selhurst Park on Saturday against West Bromwich Albion.
The winter-into-spring slide did not completely ruin Palace's season - they made a surprise run to the FA Cup final to offset their 15th place league finish. But the Eagles could not hold off Manchester United after taking a 78th-minute lead following a strike from Jason Puncheon and fell 2-1 to the Red Devils after extra time.
Since that Cup defeat, Pardew and his staff have been busy rebuilding the squad in hopes of another solid season in the Premier League.
Forward Dwight Gayle was sold to Newcastle United for 10 million pounds, while the club also said goodbye to Emmanuel Adebayor and Marouane Chamakh. A new striker remains a priority and the club have been trying to land Belgian international Christian Benteke from Liverpool, but have so far been rebuffed in their pursuit.
If they are unable to land Benteke, they could get an up-close look at another target on Saturday if West Brom's Saido Berahino makes an appearance.
The club have also reportedly agreed to sell Yannick Bolasie to Everton for 30 million pounds, but Pardew remained coy when asked.
"We've got nothing concrete to announce today, other than a lot of rumours. There's nothing that's going to happen before the weekend," Pardew said at a briefing this week. "Yannick is contracted here. He's a great player and a great person, I love him. We'll treat him with the utmost respect in any situation. Bolasie, and my conversations with him, will stay private."
On the arrivals side of the ledger, Pardew brought in winger Andros Townsend from Newcastle for 13 million pounds to provide some pace down the flanks, He reinforced the back line with defender James Tomkins, who made the move from West Ham United for 10 million pounds.
Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda also arrived in south London on a free transfer from Marseille and should slide right into the No. 1 goalkeeper spot.
"We want to take the club forward in a manner where we don't lose the spirit and the soul of this football club. This club has grown massively. We're in unprecedented territory - our fourth year in the top division," Pardew added. "Without having a transfer out, I would expect us to add two more players. I've tried to be transparent because our fans deserve that. When they walk in that stadium they will see a stronger team this year."
West Bromwich Albion enter the new season with a new face in the owner's suite. After 14 years, club chairman Jeremy Peace has sold the club to Chinese entrepreneur Guochuan Lai, who has purchased an 88 percent stake in the club. West Brom becomes the latest English side to be taken over by investors from the Far East, joining West Midlands rivals Aston Villa and Wolverhampton.
Like Roman Abramovic's purchase of Chelsea, Quatar Sports Investments' purchase of Paris Saint-Germain and City Football Group's acquisition of Manchester City, the right ownership can propel a club to new heights, something Peace sees in the sale of the Baggies.
"The club can look to the future with excitement about the opportunities ahead," said Peace. "This deal will enable Albion to build on the strong, sustainable foundations which have become the cornerstone of the club's progress."
Lai will assume official ownership when his deal with Peace is approved by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Premier League.
"I am excited and privileged to have the chance to become the new owner of this great club," Lai said.
The Baggies' new owner was also quick to point out the history between his country and the club.
"There are already strong links between China and West Bromwich Albion that began in May 1978, becoming the first English club to tour China in modern history. We have a strong squad, loyal fans and a unique culture", states Lai, who is also keen to stress, "I have no intention of changing the club's ethos.
"I feel as if I have joined a very welcoming family and I am really touched by the warmth of my reception. Everyone has been so friendly and I cannot wait to see my first game."
Tony Pulis remains on the touch line after guiding the club to a 14th place finish on 43 points. Fans should expect the same defence-first approach to the game, but injuries to Chris Brunt, James Morrison, Ben Foster and Victor Anichebe stunted the Baggies attack last term.
With new ownership just settling in defender Matt Phillips has been the only addition, making the move from Queens Park Rangers, but more ins and outs will certainly be on the way as the transfer window winds down.
Pulis agreed that his team still needs strengthening.
"All over. Every position that you look at," Pulis told the Express and Star. "The back players, midfield players and front players, we have to strengthen. The targets have been there, we know what we want."