For the third consecutive transfer window, Crystal Palace left their business late and only finished their transfer dealings on the last day of the window, as a total of five players, with an average age of 29, were brought in to the sixth oldest team in the league (as of the end of last season).
Depending on whether you are a pessimist or an optimist, Palace have added a combination of vast Premier League experience, depth and a couple of potential gems, all for very little. Or, they failed to replace their player of the season, while losing their best goals-per-minute striker and are about to enter the season with only two natural full-backs with Premier League experience.
The end of the transfer window brought along the end of yet another Wilfried Zaha transfer rumour fiesta, in what seems like a yearly occurrence around this time of the year. Nonetheless, the Ivorian will be plying his trade at Selhurst Park to the song of the Holmesdale Fanatics at least until January.
The season just gone
Unpredictable, heart-stopping and erratic. The 2018-2019 league season for Palace was one where tears of both joy and despair flowed in consecutive weeks. Where the highs were as equally astonishing as the lows. From beating the Champions away at home to being the difference between relegation and survival for their bitter rivals, Brighton, the Eagles will be hoping to instil any form of consistency to their new season.
For the first time in at least their Premier League history, Palace ended the season with two players scoring 10 or more goals throughout their individual campaigns. The aforementioned Zaha and captain, Luka Milivojevic, combined for 22 goals in a fruitful season for the pair, where the former was one of just four players in the league to hit double-figure tallies for both goals and assists (including penalties won as assists).
Palace struggled to find consistent performers in front of goal despite these two stalwarts returning on a regular basis.
Andros Townsend’s tally of six goals placed him third in the club’s individual goal tally, but otherwise it was tough viewing. Palace’s four strikers combined for three goals from a mammoth 2,232 minutes played – that’s a goal every 744 minutes.
Arguably several factors contributed to this entirely baffling return – injuries kept Connor Wickham and Christian Benteke out for a combined 44 games. Arguments could be made that the injuries halted their momentum or prevented any build up of momentum. Both strikers are fit to begin this season, so it will be interesting to see who starts and how their scoring tallies develop this time around.
Another thing that would worry the Palace hierarchy and frustrate fans all the same, is the club’s home form. Just 19 goals at home produced just 20 points from their 19 fixtures at Selhurst Park – giving them the equal-second worst records in both categories. This was in stark contrast to their away form where they were ranked fifth overall, scoring the equal-sixth highest amount of goals (32) on their travels.
Despite all their woes, from injuries to poor home form, Palace still did have something to shout about. Roy Hodgson’s men won a flurry of points from mid-December onwards, winning the fifth-most points over the last 22 game-weeks of the season and scoring the third-most goals in that same period. Over the whole season as well, Palace won the sixth-most clean sheets as they provided a fair level of resistance throughout the season.
Overall, after the 38 games, Crystal Palace finished 12th, just five points out of 8th which is impressive for a club that spent just £10.67 million throughout both transfer windows for the 2018/19 season. This was the second-lowest transfer spend and almost a third less than the next lowest (Watford with £27.09 million).
With just one addition to the final week of the transfer window, Crystal Palace struggled with injuries and form as they managed just one win from their eight games. A 5-0 win against Bristol City was the only highlight of their campaign as Wilfried Zaha missed all eight fixtures, along with James Tomkins.
With Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s departure, long-time servant Joel Ward started five out of eight games at right back, the same number as Patrick van Aanholt managed on the opposite flank.
Max Meyer was a notable presence in the majority of the fixtures, playing on the left side of midfield when he appeared to provide that consistent creative spark and flare from the middle of the park which the club has been lacking since Jason Puncheon’s demise.
Christian Benteke looked a little more like his former self, playing as a hold-up number 9 as he was directly involved in a few goals which would be pleasing to the eyes of all those involved with Palace. A fit and confident Benteke is almost unmatchable in the air, and his long-lost strength would fare him well amongst the strongmen of the Premier League.
The transfer window
Five additions in any window is good business by all means. Gary Cahill adds another option at centre-back and will help to fill in, or even start ahead of James Tomkins or Mamadou Sakho. He’ll be able to provide an experienced Premier League body and calmness on the ball that other centre-halves at the club may lack.
Victor Camarasa, a classy and talented Spaniard, was the youngest addition to the squad throughout the off-season and he will provide another creative option to midfield ensuring that Jeffrey Schlupp or the aforementioned Meyer do not take their foot off the pedal.
James McCarthy, who has made just five appearances in the Premier League over the last two combined seasons, was bought for an undisclosed fee. Various injuries have troubled the Scottish midfielder who will add more competition to a quite deep list of midfielders.
Palace seem to want depth in midfield, most likely indicating they will be heavily reliant on the position throughout the season. Each midfielder at the club has their own strengths and weaknesses and Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff will be hoping to exploit each and every trait of each midfielder, including these two new midfield signings.
Jordan Ayew has permanently joined the club after spending last season on loan. While he definitely is not the flashiest of performers, Ayew provides that forward pressure that many clubs are lacking.
Stephen Henderson was the first addition during the off-season and will most likely not see much of the pitch throughout the 2019/20 league season. Henderson may have simply joined the club as a training partner and as cover for the other first-team goalkeepers, Hennessey and Guaita.
It goes without saying that the two top-scorers from last season will be integral to any success Palace experience in the new season and not just for their goal tallies. Milivojevic, the club captain, played every single minute last season, providing much-needed defensive stability and poise in midfield when sometimes others lacked those qualities. While Zaha’s ability to launch up the pitch is almost unparalleled in the league, completing the second most dribbles out of all players and with Eden Hazard off to Spain for the new season, Zaha now becomes the premier dribbler of the competition.
Vincenté Guaita also becomes a more important figure in the team, especially with the lack of personnel in defence. The Spaniard had the third highest save percentage in the league (73.6%) and the sixth highest clean sheet percentage of all keepers to have played more than half the season, winning a clean sheet from 7 out of 20 games. His strong hands and demanding voice will be vital for a defence that is currently lacking three of it’s four first-choice defenders from game-week one last season.
2018/19 league expectations
First and foremost, Palace will hope to improve on their torrid record at Selhurst Park from last season. Often heralded as having the loudest and proudest home support in the league, the Palace players will be hoping to reward the South London faithful with better performances on their home soil. To do this they will need an experienced squad to keep its legs for the majority of the season, relying heavily on younger players, such as Meyer, Zaha and Townsend to spur the team forward in the latter stages of games and the overall season.
The top six are seemingly unreachable for most of the ‘other 14’, while the relegation zone is an area of the table that Palace will hope is a distant memory as they look to entrench themselves in the middle of the table and build from there in future seasons.
The first-choice 11 at the club can certainly rival any other team and they showed that by chalking up wins at the Emirates and Etihad Stadium while rocking Liverpool’s ship at Anfield in-between. The depth at each of the full-back positions and upfront is worrying and injuries to any of the first-choice players in those positions could be detrimental.
However, it was injuries that gave rise to the £50 million-valued South London-raised right back, Wan-Bissaka. Noted youngsters in Sam Woods, Tyrick Mitchell, Jason Lokilo and Nya Kirby will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of their former peer.
All in all, another finish around 10th spot is not out of the question, but injuries are threatening to derail Palace’s season before it even begins. How Hodgson and his men handle the situation will be intriguing, but if the medical staff can keep their best players out on the park each week the club could look to break into the top 10 like they have been looking to do so for the last few seasons.