It may have come a few weeks later than usual, but we’ve finally reached that time of the year where every football fan in the country starts posting their predictions for the upcoming season on social media.
One opinion that seems to be a constant among the rafts of final table forecasts, is that Crystal Palace will find themselves in a relegation scrap. And to be honest it’s all pretty baffling.
The Eagles enjoyed a solid 14th place finish last season – a comfortable nine points clear of the drop zone, having never looked in danger of dropping into the bottom three.
Those who have predicted the demise of Roy Hodgson’s side will point to their wretched post-restart form, and in truth it’s difficult to argue that Palace didn’t end the season terribly.
However, it’s worth noting that six of their final eight games were played against teams from the top seven, a run of fixtures which included a very narrow loss to Chelsea and a draw at home to Tottenham. Had those results been spread out over the season, no-one would have looked twice at them.
The performances of Hodgson’s side after lockdown won’t have pleased the Palace boss, however, with European football and distant dream and relegation out of the question, it’s understandable (if not acceptable) that his team’s displays lacked the intensity and drive that they had earlier in the season.
To put this into context, champions Liverpool were far from their free-flowing best once their season goal had been reached, yet very few people are tipping them to suffer a similar drop in form.
While Palace can be pleased with their 2019/20 season as a whole, there were a number of clear flaws in the squad.
First of all they were the second-lowest scorers in the league – with only bottom side Norwich City notching fewer – however, Hodgson has moved to address that issue this summer with the acquisition of Queens Park Rangers wonderkid Eberechi Eze.
The youngster was head and shoulders above most players in the Championship last season, with his 14 goals and eight assists securing Mark Warburton’s side a mid-table finish along with a nomination for Championship Player of the Year.
However, the goal threat Eze will bring won’t be the only thing which caught Hodgson’s eye. The 22-year-old’s linkup play with target man Jordan Hugill was a feature of QPR’s season, with the on-loan West Ham man enjoying his most prolific season to date in front of goal.
If Eze can strike up a similar relationship with Palace’s misfiring frontman Christian Benteke, the Eagles’ sparse goal return could well be a thing of the past.
The other major issue with Palace’s squad last season was the lack of youth. Hodgson fielded the oldest average starting XI in the Premier League, however, the purchases of Eze and talented West Bromwich Albion youngster Nathan Ferguson are a step in the right direction.
The Eagles’ summer business may not have been plentiful but it’s certainly been solid, and with no big-name departures from Selhurst Park, Hodgson has maintained the spine of the team which conceded less than fourth placed Chelsea last season.
Of course there’s the bi-annual ‘will he, won’t he’ Wilfried Zaha debate, but whereas the Ivory Coast international’s sale would have seen him take with him a large portion of Palace’s goals in past seasons, his four goals in the 2019/20 campaign hardly reflect that of an invaluable forward asset.
Should the 27-year-old finally head for pastures new, the signing of Eze means Palace have a ready-made replacement, with the former QPR man preferring to start on the left of a three. However, his tendency to drift inside means both players could be accommodated should Zaha remain at the club.
Palace may have finished the 2019/20 campaign poorly, but it would be unfair to judge them on an end-of-season slump given their form prior to the run-in. The club have bought wisely, maintained the core of their squad, and under the stewardship of Hodgson they should have no relegation worries for the season ahead.
Source : 90min