After a disastrous, record-breaking start to the 2017/18 campaign, Roy Hodgson will be hoping to restore an upwards curve of progression to Selhurst Park, though how far could they go in 2018/19?
Palace had to endure a torrid start to the Premier League season, losing their first seven games without scoring a goal, whilst also being knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Bristol City. Former Ajax manager Frank de Boer was sacked after just the first four games, before being replaced by Roy Hodgson.
The much derided Hodgson led the recovery, as Palace’s form picked up in October. The Eagles ultimately finished 11th in the league, comfortably beating the drop – a sizeable achievement considering the start to the season they encountered.
Manager and tactics
According to his Wikipedia, Roy Hodgson has been manager of 22 (yes, 22) different teams in his managerial career. Often subject to much ridicule, it is fair to say that few managers have the same level of experience as Hodgson. People will remember him for the bad moments at Liverpool and England, but the man did an exceptional job at Fulham and West Brom, particularly the former.
At these two clubs, and also at Crystal Palace, he has transformed the fortunes of each team from relegation candidates to mid-table teams at the very worst. When Hodgson arrived at Selhurst Park, he got his team to go back to basics. He minimised the space between his back line and his midfield, dropping into a 4-4-2 as he prefers to, or 4-5-1 against the likes of Manchester City. He forces opposition teams to play out wide, rather than through the middle.
Whilst this is hardly a revolutionary defensive system, Hodgson drums into his players their individual roles and make sure they carry them out to the letter. In attack, Palace often like to play on the counter, with defensive midfielder Luka Milivojevic often putting long balls in behind opposition defences for speedy wingers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend to chase.
In Zaha, Palace have an exceptionally talented player who can score goals on his own accord. It would be harsh to limit Palace to simply a counter-attacking team; the Eagles’ attacking unit play very fluidly when in attack, often drifting inside and out in order to create space in the box, where a large majority of their goals come from.
Jason Puncheon is the official club captain, but the 32-year-old winger is not a guaranteed starter and missed the second half of last season with a knee injury. Scott Dann, the vice-captain, also missed much of the season on the sidelines.
In their place, it was often up to Luka Milivojevic to takeover the captaincy role – a role which he fulfilled with aplomb. A regular scorer from the penalty spot, the Serbian international performed admirably in his deep-lying midfield position, with many Palace fans calling for him to be made permanent captain.
Not a difficult choice, Wilfried Zaha is the one true superstar in this Crystal Palace side. At time of writing, it looks like the South Londoners will hold onto their most prized asset, arguably their most important bit of transfer business this summer.
His pace and trickery on the wing have long been part of the former Manchester United man’s arsenal, but last season Zaha finally added the end product to match his fantastic talent. Moving to a central position under Hodgson, the Ivory Coast star bagged nine goals in his 21 games as striker.
Able to turn games in the blink of an eye with his outstanding finishing and his newly discovered goalscoring form, it is vital that Palace can hold onto their talisman, amidst interest from Chelsea.
It has been a fairly limited window of activity for Roy Hodgson, with only three major incomings at time of writing. Max Meyer, the German international who has been touted as a potential great of the game, left Schalke this summer upon the expiry of his contract, leading to the Eagles swooping to obtain the midfielder’s signature. Hailed as Germany’s next wonderkid, Meyer is often included in the same bracket as Leroy Sane and Time Werner.
If the 22-year-old lives up this billing, Hodgson may have just found himself the bargain of the season. Cheikhou Kouyaté has also signed for the club, switching from West Ham in a £10 million move. It is thought that the Senegalese midfielder will replace the outgoing Yohan Cabaye, who joined Al-Nasr on a free transfer in one of those unsurprising and inconsequential deals that will allow the former Newcastle man to disappear into footballing obscurity.
Vicente Guaita has joined from Valencia; the Spanish goalkeeper penning a three-year deal with the Eagles, and looks set to start the season ahead of Wayne Hennessey.
Much of Palace’s hopes do lie on the future of Wilfried Zaha. If the Ivorian international does stay at the club, then the club will certainly be looking to improve on their 11th placed finish from last season. With a very solid squad, and with a superstar like Zaha in their ranks, the Eagles should be looking up the table rather than down it.
If Palace can sign one or two more players before the window slams shut, an ambitious but not overly optimistic target would be to finish as the best of the rest, outside the top six but securing that final Europa League qualifying spot of seventh. Whilst they may struggle to match the likes of big-spending West Ham, Everton and Wolves, unlike the aforementioned three, the Eagles have a stable squad that has been together under the same manager for a longer period of time – something that can only benefit them.
If Zaha does go, it does not mean that Palace will be likely relegation candidates, but it will likely curtail any hopes of European football next season, and will most probably leave the club not improving on last season’s 11th placed finish.