2018/19 – Crystal Palace Season Preview

Crystal Palace FC Premier League

Founded: 1905

Nickname: The Eagles

Home Ground: Selhurst Park

Trophy Room:  N/A

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Current Squad:

Crystal Palace FC Roster

What a rollercoaster season has it been for Crystal Palace. They entered the 2017/18 English Premier League season with Frank De Boer as the manager, only to fire him after four consecutive defeats in the Premier League without scoring a goal.

Roy Hodgson stepped into his shoes and tried to right the ship. Crystal Palace were at the bottom of the English Premier League standings for the whole first half of the season, but slowly, with a run of good form, they managed to steer clear of relegation and finish strong, securing 11th place.

I have prepared an overview of main Crystal Palace storylines and a short preview for the upcoming English Premier League season.

Previous Season Summary

Finish: 11th

Crystal Palace entered the 2017/18 English Premier League season with quiet confidence under the new manager Frank de Boer. The expectation was that they have finally hired a quality manager that would provide them with some stability, having gone through two coaching changes the previous season.

Few expected such a rude awakening for Crystal Palace as the season started. Crystal Palace lost the 4 opening games of the 2017/18 English Premier League to Huddersfield Town, Liverpool, Swansea City and Burnley without scoring a single goal. The club’s board quickly lost patience with Frank de Boer and fired him.

Experienced manager Roy Hodgson, who used to coach the England National Team in the past, was brought in to right the ship. It wasn’t an easy task, as Crystal Palace lost another 3 games in a row without scoring a goal. The run of 7 defeats had them dead last in the Premier League.

The first ray of hope was a home game against Chelsea at Selhurst Park, where the Eagles won their first game of the season. The signs of improved play and praises for the win against Chelsea have boosted the morale of the team.

After the win against Chelsea, Crystal Palace put together a string of 11 matches where they achieved 3 wins, 6 draws and only 2 losses. Picking up points along the schedule was crucial for Crystal Palace to slowly move out of the league bottom and the relegation zone. The new goal was to safely place mid-table in the English Premier League.

Although Crystal Palace played in mixed form in the second half of the season, they have managed to secure wins against key rivals and stay above the relegation zone. They ended the 2017/18 English Premier League season on a bang, winning 4 out of the last 5 games on the schedule. That helped them move up into 11th place in the standings, a remarkable achievement for a club that struggled so much.

Looking back at the season, the highlight will certainly be their first win of the season vs Chelsea, which gave them wind and hope that they can turn their season around. That was Crystal Palace’s only win against Big 6 clubs during that season.

Key Additions and Departures

Crystal Palace were a club in turmoil the last several seasons. They have changed 4 head coaches in the last 2 years, brought in a number of players that really didn’t pan out and had some rollercoaster seasons during that time.

The arrival of Roy Hodgson has created some stability at the manager position and a more systematic approach to competing in the English Premier League. Crystal Palace have been cautious and quiet in the transfer market so far, making very few moves.

Hodgson doesn’t have a huge budget to spend on reinforcements for the next season, so he has to seek value in the market and add only players that can be difference makers at an affordable price. Crystal Palace has so far brought in goalkeeper Vicente Guaita, to provide more depth alongside Wayne Hennessey.

On the other hand, Crystal Palace have lost Yohan Cabaye on a free transfer move to Al-Nasr. The French midfielder was an integral part of the last year’s squad and his loss will be felt. Especially due to the fact that Ruben Loftus-Cheek is back at Chelsea after his loan contract has expired as well.

Other departures include the veteran center back Damien Delaney, who left the club for Cork City on a free transfer and goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri who is still without a club. Overall, Crystal Palace have been really quiet but they are expected to make some moves before the English Premier League season starts.

The obvious area where help is needed is in the center midfield after Yohan Cabaye’s departure. A creative midfielder that can play next to the tireless dynamo Luka Milivojevic is needed, in order to boost the quality of attacking moves of the Eagles. The first name mentioned in the connection with Crystal Palace is Jack Wilshere, whose future at Arsenal is in doubt.

The second area where the Eagles are looking to improve is at the right-wing spot. The main target is West Ham United’s Michail Antonio who has been informed by the Hammers that he is not a part of their future plans.

Finally, there is the issue of Christian Benteke. After an excellent season in 2016/17, Benteke was one of the worst strikes in the English Premier League. He has scored only 3 goals in 34 appearances, in the system where he plays as a target man and is at the center of the Eagles’ attacking moves. There are rumors that Crystal Palace is looking to replace him.

The primary replacement is the Senegal strikes, Khouma Babacar. Babacar has been loaned out from Fiorentina to Serie A side Sassuolo. They have picked up an option to sign him permanently and now Crystal Palace are ready to offer as much as GBP 12 million to make the move happen. Sassuolo can make a quick profit by flipping the player and the Eagles might have a new striker soon.

None of that will matter if the Eagles cannot keep Wilfried Zaha at Selhurst Park. Zaha has been sensational the last two years and many clubs are fighting to sign him. If Crystal Palace can fight off Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton and keep Zaha on a roster, that will be the biggest move they can make this offseason.

Style of Play

Roy Hodgson is one of the few old-school managers left in the English Premier League nowadays. After firing Frank de Boer, Crystal Palace brought Hodgson in to revitalize the team and secure Premier League spot for Crystal Palace for the next season as well.

While the Dutch manager tried to introduce the concept of modern “Total Football” to Crystal Palace, an experiment that was a total failure due to an inadequate roster for such a system, Hodgson opted to return to the basics and play to his roster’s strengths.

Under Hodgson, Crystal Palace have mainly employed two formations, a standard 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, depending on the available players for selection. What is quite obvious is the fact that Hodgson prefers to use classic 4-back defensive lines as the heart of his defense.

He prefers playing strong center backs that can be an asset during set pieces and provide toughness on the defensive end. The wing backs are given more freedom to pursue offensive moves and usually press much higher up the field to win possession from wingers.

At the center of the midfield is the tireless dynamo Luka Milivojevic whose ball-winning skills and tempo are second-to-none in the English Premier League. The Serbian midfielder has the knack for set pieces and taking penalties, to go along with his stamina and motor. Milivojevic has covered the most distance in the English Premier League during the last two seasons.

If playing in 4-4-2, the second central midfielder is given more offensive freedom and needs to be creative enough to play the ball into space for both wingers and the two forwards up front. In a 4-3-3 system, the wingers are deployed further up the field and the other two midfielders need to play both ways, as the wing backs launch up the field to fill the space left on the wings.

Traditionally, Hodgson likes to utilize one forward as the target man in his offensive schemes but has experimented with more fluid and flexible forward lineups. Mostly due to the fact that Christian Benteke was awful all season long and couldn’t deliver much from the position.

Hodgson has been fairly consistent with his system over the years and I find it difficult to believe that much will change in the upcoming English Premier League season. Whoever is brought in during the transfer window, will need to fit into the system in place.

2018/19 English Premier League Season Expectations and Predictions

Crystal Palace will be looking to build on their strong finish in the English Premier League last year. The squad managed to finish 11th after a terrible start to the season which saw them lose 7 straight games without scoring a single goal.

The trademark of Roy Hodgson’s teams has always been stability and consistency. If he is able to get the Eagles pointed in the right direction from the start of the season, they might have a chance to have a really successful season.

The early season schedule seems to favor Crystal Palace, as they only play one game vs a Big 6 club in the first 9 games. Home games versus Southampton, Wolverhampton and Newcastle are winnable fixtures and there is no reason why the Eagles cannot bring back plenty of points from away fixtures at Fulham, Watford, Huddersfield and Bournemouth.

The real test will be a 4-game stretch at the end of October and through November. Crystal Palace will face Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United in 4 straight fixtures, a daunting task for more talented squads than the Eagles. If they suffer a poor start to the season, Crystal Palace might find it difficult to keep their head above the water before Christmas.

Of course, the key factor in Crystal Palace’s success next season will be the outcome of their dealings in the transfer markets. Keeping Wilfried Zaha on the roster is an absolute priority, as he is the key player in Hodgson’s system and only reliable offensive threat.

Replacing the creativity of Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the midfield is another issue that needs to be solved. Luka Milivojevic is a phenomenal player but he cannot be expected to carry a huge offensive burden with the defensive assignments he is given. Versatile midfielders that can provide a spark on offense are needed if the Eagles are to be competitive up front.

Finally, the faith of Christian Benteke at Crystal Palace needs to be decided. Either he gets the support from the team, along with the urgency to improve his form or a replacement must be brought in.

The Eagles are going nowhere if their target man scores 3 goals in a season, like the last time.

I expect Crystal Palace to be competitive and a tough outing for anyone on the English Premier League calendar. Still, I believe that with all the question marks in the air, it will be tough for the Eagles to finish in the top half of the English Premier League. An inconsistent offense, that might get even worse with the potential departure of Zaha will ultimately be their undoing, as they stay clear of relegation but drop several places.

Projected Finish 15th Place

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