When Dougie Freedman departed Crystal Palace for Bolton Wanderers midway through last season, it seemed a strange move -- Palace were contending for automatic promotion, while the Trotters were flirting with relegation. A reversal in form soon followed as, despite Ian Holloway's best efforts, their form wobbled badly toward the end of the season. They still managed to negotiate the playoffs and earn promotion to the Premier League.
At the moment, it looks a touch premature. Wilfried Zaha, now at Manchester United, played a colossal role in their campaign, and the club looks to need too much strengthening to survive in what appears to be one of the strongest Premier Leagues in years. Yet in Holloway they have a man who excelled at Blackpool on a fraction of the budget, very nearly performing miracles to keep them up. So far under his direction, Palace are yet to show any of his former side's cavalier attacking spirit, but with a full preseason behind them, new additions, and more stability, they could be the most unpredictable side this season.
Last year: 5th place, Championship (promoted via playoffs)
Key player: Mile Jedinak
Crystal Palace pipped other teams to promotion last year not because they were a better, more coherent team, but because they had a handful of players who were simply too good for the Championship. The departed Wilfried Zaha was the most notable, but Jedinak was another, and was a standout performer in the playoffs in particular.
A tough-tackling midfield general who's also dominant in the air, Jedinak can show he has what it takes to play in the Premier League, and they'll need another good year out of him if they're to avoid getting overrun by tougher sides. This is a highly inexperienced Crystal Palace team, so his experience will be vital.
Potential breakout star: Jonathan Williams
Referred to by Ian Holloway as 'my David Silva', the young Welsh playmaker caught the eye of many last year with some speculation he could follow Zaha's footsteps in leaving for a much bigger club. So far Palace have been able to hold onto him, and it'll be interesting to see how he copes in the Premier League. Blessed with fine technique, vision and touch, he was previously used as a central midfielder before Holloway began playing him out wide towards the end of last season, where he initially struggled to make the same impact but still showed his quality. This will be a very big season for the youngster.
Jose Campana is a hugely interesting and exciting purchase, but other than that, Palace are yet to make much of a splash in the transfer window. Dwight Gayle seemed a big gamble at a reported £6m, but Holloway has proved himself at signing lower-league talent on many occasions before. Elsewhere, Jerome Thomas is a sensible acquisition, while Elliot Grandin and Stephen Dobbie flesh out the squad somewhat.
Departures: Jermaine Easter, Andre Moritz, Alex Marrow, Wilfried Zaha
Wilfried Zaha is the only significant loss to Crystal Palace as they keep hold of the rest of their key players. Despite that, the now-Manchester United winger's departure will be a difficult one for which to accommodate. Jerome Thomas has experience at this level but he does not have the same game-changing qualities.
Could still leave: Probably none
Assuming that Holloway has already found buyers for his unwanted players, nobody else has been strongly linked with a move away. Jonathan Williams had been touted for a move to a big club, but it doesn't appear anything will materialize this summer.
Crystal Palace are a bit light in almost every department at the moment, but with Glenn Murray injured, Dwight Gayle untested at this level and Kevin Phillips approaching 40, a goalscorer is probably of the highest priority for Holloway. Whether the club can afford Darren Bent's wages will be difficult, but the striker could be desperate enough to take a pay cut with the World Cup looming. A distinctly Championship-looking defense will also surely be high up the priority list for reinforcements.
Projected opening weekend starting XI: Julian Speroni, Joel Ward, Paddy McCarthy, Peter Ramage, Dean Moxey, Jerome Thomas, Mile Jedinak, Jose Campana, Jonathan Williams, Yannick Bolasie, Dwight Gayle.
At present, this is perhaps Crystal Palace's best lineup considering the injury to Murray, but defensive and forward positions are likely to be strengthened before then. The midfield is potentially more than sufficient for this level, both centrally and out wide, but there are big questions over the rest.
Season prediction: 18th
With less of a solid team than Hull City, and less money than Cardiff City, Palace are the obvious contenders for relegation out of the three. If they're to survive, they'll need huge performances out of their key players. At Blackpool, Holloway did that to near-superhuman levels and still suffered relegation, albeit with a very high points total. Here, he doesn't have the same financial restrictions, but the rest of the league simply looks too strong for them.