Crystal Palace must beware former favourite Yannick Bolasie
Friday night's match at Everton will feel strange for Crystal Palace fans, as they face the enigmatic Yannick Bolasie for the first time since his summer move to Merseyside. He delighted and frustrated in equal measure during his time in south London but will always be held in high regard by supporters at Selhurst Park.
Bolasie, like so many players that won Palace promotion to the Premier League back in 2012-13, arrived at the club as an outcast. Bristol City, his former club, were willing to let him go for just £250,000. Hindsight would tell you that was a foolish decision, however even at that stage, the Congolese winger's performances were so inconsistent you could understand the thinking in the decision to sell him.
One of the rare luxuries in football is seeing players whose careers have been written off or maligned taking the initiative and proving their detractors wrong. Bolasie, for all the talent he had at a young age, wasn't given the opportunity to show his qualities at his previous clubs. He wasn't given the chance to grow into the player he is today.
His early career at Palace wasn't always one of brilliance either. This was a player who, despite having the ability to create opportunities for others and himself, often frustrated with a lack of cutting edge. It's forgotten that Bolasie barely featured in Palace's playoff wins. He made the telling contribution of the game against Brighton by setting up Wilfried Zaha for the first goal, but that would be the only role he played. He didn't even take to the field for the 2013 win over Watford at Wembley.
There are two schools of thought about players like Bolasie. There are those who are entertained by the sheer audacity of what he attempts, who will accept the flaws because of the awe he can inspire. And there are those who see those sparks of inspiration and wish he used them to be more productive in goalscoring areas. Everton fans will, in the longer term, find themselves divided into similar groups.
Bolasie became the poster boy for Palace following promotion. Quick, skilful and brash -- he was the epitome of an exciting team capable of taking on bigger boys. His flicks and tricks gave Palace a swagger; a sense the club could take on the top teams in the division and wouldn't be afraid. The club lost some of that when he signed for Everton, albeit for a £30 million fee that most supporters accept is an incredible one. His performances at Everton will be just as enigmatic, inspirational and infuriating.
Tasked with keeping Bolasie at bay on Friday will be goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and defenders Joel Ward, James Tomkins, Damien Delaney and Martin Kelly. There has been some suggestion that Zeki Fryers might take Kelly's role but it's unlikely that Alan Pardew would risk further destabilising a defence that lacks its captain in the backline.
In midfield, Palace should line up with the trio of Joe Ledley, James McArthur and Jason Puncheon that has worked so well in recent games. Whether this happens is dependent on whether Wilfried Zaha returns from the slight hamstring pull that forced him to miss the trip to Sunderland. Should Zaha miss out, Puncheon is likely to move to the wing with Yohan Cabaye likely to drop into a defensive midfield role.
Palace will hope that Andros Townsend, Bolasie's replacement, dissipates any regret they might feel about their former winger's departure. For that to happen, he and his teammates will have to improve the service to Christian Benteke, who spent so much of the game against Sunderland a spectator before his late intervention to win the match 3-2.
Keeping Bolasie quiet won't be an easy task for Pardew's side. But doing so, and using the attacking tools the club have, would give the Eagles an opportunity to extend their winning run to four league games.
Robert Sutherland is ESPN FC's Crystal Palace blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @RoDuSu.