With the 2020/21 Premier League season upon us, The Hard Tackle will assess the prospects of Crystal Palace, who begin their eighth top-flight campaign in a row.
The Premier League era has been defined by two separate phases for Crystal Palace. Up until 2013, when they returned to the top-flight after a hiatus of eight years, the Eagles, who were one of the founding members of the Premier League, were the football club equivalent of a yo-yo, constantly journeying between the first and second division, especially in the 1990s.
In fact, when they secured promotion to the Premier League, it was widely believed that for the fifth time, they would last just one season in the top tier of English football. That Palace were operating on a meagre budget only sought to make them one of the odds-on favourites to go right back down to the Championship at the end of the 2013/14 season.
However, what has ensued since then is a story of a club that has built an air of stability around it. Steve Parish, a boyhood Crystal Palace fan who bought the club with his consortium in 2010, has done a marvellous job to keep the South Londoners’ Premier League status intact, despite rarely going over the top with their spending.
During their current seven-year stay in the top-flight, Palace have also experienced mild success in cup competitions, reaching the heady heights of the FA Cup final under the tutelage of the maverick Alan Pardew. Current manager Roy Hodgson has been at the club for nearly three years now and in this period, the Eagles have consistently hovered around the top half of the table, becoming a team that is hard to beat on most days.
The same was true for much of the 2019/20 season, before they limped to the end of the campaign; the absence of fans at a usually raucous Selhurst Park being quite telling. As Crystal Palace now get set to begin their eighth successive Premier League campaign, The Hard Tackle brings to you an exclusive season preview – an all-encompassing guide to all you need to know about the Londoners.
Prelude – The Backdrop
Crystal Palace’s final tally of the 2019/20 season did not really make for an inspired reading. After all, they were on the wrong end of the result nearly half of the 38 games (17) they played in their Premier League campaign. Roy Hodgson’s men also managed to find the back of the net just 31 times – the second lowest in the division.
However, despite their very obvious shortcomings, the Eagles were never really in danger of going down to the Championship. In fact, Crystal Palace’s lowest position at the end of a gameweek was 14th, although they were far better positioned on the Premier League table for much of the season.
Their campaign started on a shaky note, as Palace first played out an uninspiring goalless draw with Everton before being beaten by the then-Premier League new boys Sheffield United. However, back-to-back wins, including one over Manchester United at Old Trafford, propelled Palace up to the top four.
Thereafter, Crystal Palace were typically inconsistent until February, although they did notch up some impressive results against Arsenal and Manchester City. A run of four wins in a row between February and June (ICYMI, the Premier League – and the entire world – came to a grinding halt due to the devastating coronavirus pandemic for several months) gave them faint hope of a possible tilt for the UEFA Europa League spots.
Then, came a horrific end to the season, as eight games without a win, including seven losses, meant they were on a freefall before the curtains dropped on an elongated campaign. Fortunately for Palace, their place in the 2020/21 Premier League season was already secured much before that dreadful run began.
The nightmarish end to their Premier League season notwithstanding, it was still quite a solid effort by Crystal Palace – for the umpteenth time since they returned to the top tier of English football. It was also a season that saw players not named Wilfried Zaha step up, with the 27-year-old reeling from a move out of Selhurst Park that never materialised.
Jordan Ayew, in particular, impressed, finishing 2019/20 as Crystal Palace’s top scorer while also winning their Player of the Year award; Gary Cahill proved to be a fine addition in defence too. In the coming season, however, Hodgson would hope for a better haul, both in the league and cup competitions, from where they were unceremoniously dumped by lower league opposition on first try.
There has been very little movement around Selhurst Park so far in the summer transfer window, with Roy Hodgson managing to keep the core of his squad intact heading into the 2020/21 season. Indeed, none of the Crystal Palace first-team regulars have left the club, with only Ryan Inniss and Stephen Henderson heading out the exit doors following the expiration of their contracts.
Palace, though, have brought in a couple of players, with the arrival of Eberechi Eze from Queens Park Rangers sure to excite a lot of fans. The 22-year-old, one of the Eagles’ most expensive acquisitions of all time, is a player who is rated quite highly in the Championship.
Scouted for a couple of years, Eze’s arrival should provide an injection of quality in a Crystal Palace attack that has been too heavily dependent on Wilfried Zaha for a long time now. With Jordan Ayew stepping up last season, Eze, along with the incumbent African duo, should ideally improve Palace’s output in the final third, especially with Andros Townsend blowing hot and cold.
The other major signing for Crystal Palace this summer has been that of Nathan Ferguson. The 19-year-old arrived at Selhurst Park after running down his contract with West Bromwich Albion and might be the long-sought successor for Aaron Wan-Bissaka. With Joel Ward now in his thirties, Hodgson could theoretically ensure a smooth transition at right-back.
Midfield is also expected to receive a boost this summer, with Conor Gallagher, the exciting Chelsea youngster, set to be signed on a season-long loan deal. With Max Meyer hardly impressing since making the switch from Bundesliga, Hodgson will hope to have bolstered the ageing midfield sufficiently, especially if the 20-year-old can have an impact a-la Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Defence does not seem like it will see any other changes apart from the arrival of Ferguson, with Gary Cahill set to be a pivotal figure at the back once again. In goal, the duel between Vicente Guaita and Wayne Hennessey ought to continue, with both players impressing more often than not.
On the opposite end, the onus will once again be on Zaha and Ayew and their displays will go a long way in determining Palace’s position come the end of the season.
Crystal Palace have been dealt a tricky hand, as far as their fixture list in the Premier League goes, with ‘Big Six’ opposition up against them at the onset and end of the season. The Eagles start off at home against a Southampton side that is sure to be buoyed by a strong end to the 2019/20 season.
That the Saints also boasted a strong away record last term means this is quite a dicey start to Palace’s latest top-flight campaign. In the following three gameweeks, Hodgson & co. will come up against teams that will fancy their chances against them – Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea.
It is imperative that the South Londoners manage at least a couple of points from their opening four games, if not more, if they are to approach winnable games in October and November against Brighton & Hove Albion, Fulham, Leeds United, Burnley and Newcastle United in a positive state. This run ahead of the festive period will be critical for Palace and a couple of wins are essential.
The aforementioned festive period does not seem to be as touch-and-go a span as the first and final month of the season is. While they will be facing Liverpool and Tottenham in this time, Palace also have key games against Premier League newcomers West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United and Aston Villa in this time.
Finally, a promising month-long run around February has them facing Newcastle, Leeds, Burnley, Brighton and Fulham in successive matches and this will be a period when they can accumulate the highest haul all season before the daunting run-in begins. If they are anywhere near the drop zone when March begins, a relegation dogfight could beckon them by the time May rolls in.
Who else but that man Wilfried Zaha? It is no secret that Zaha would rather be playing for a club whose stature is much higher than Crystal Palace. However, a move away from Selhurst Park might not be forthcoming for yet another summer, even though rumour has it that he is eager to leave at long last.
If he does end up staying put yet again, it goes without saying that Roy Hodgson will build his team around Zaha once again. The only caveat is Zaha’s desire to pull on the Crystal Palace shirt and perform with the same desire, the desire that was missing on several occasions last term.
But if his head is in the right place, the 27-year-old will be tricky proposition for every opponent with his mazy runs and direct outlet.
When Gary Cahill arrived at Crystal Palace last summer, very few would have given him a chance to stamp his authority the way he did. Here was a player who had won it all with Chelsea and was a one of their consistent performers till he was a regular at the heart of their defence. However, after barely featuring under Maurizio Sarri, he did not quite have the same aura around him.
That all changed last season as he marshalled the Crystal Palace defence expertly, taking on the charge from a faltering Mamadou Sakho. Currently out nursing a hamstring injury, Palace will need to somehow cope with his absence for a while. When he returns, though, the veteran defender will need to hit the ground running to aid his team’s cause.
Our list ends with last season’s Crystal Palace Player of the Year. With Zaha seemingly unsettled to a little extent, Hodgson needed someone to raise his hand and step up in the final third. The good money would have been on Andros Townsend, a player capable of special performances, to be such a player. However, that person ended up being Jordan Ayew.
Up until 2019/20, Ayew had not really managed to make an impression in English football, having represented three different clubs until that point. Having joined Crystal Palace on a permanent transfer, Ayew vindicated Hodgson’s decision and he will need to do so again this term.
With the exciting Eberechi Eze joining the attack, Ayew will have an even better supply line behind him. Can the Ghanaian striker outdo himself for a second season running?
It seems like Crystal Palace approach every season with the expectation of being a part of the dreaded relegation quagmire, despite becoming a stable Premier League outfit. 2020/21, ahead of its curtain raiser, does not seem to be any different.
This time around, an atrocious streak of eight games without a win during the run-in seems to have put the Eagles in a spot of bother. With Wilfried Zaha’s future still being quite uncertain, there is an unsettling atmosphere around Selhurst Park. However, if Palace manage to keep hold of their talisman yet again, a much more comfortable season could be on the cards.
The game on Thursday 13 May, 2021 could potentially end up being a six-pointer, when they lock horns with Aston Villa, another club that could be mired in the relegation battle. With all that in mind, The Hard Tackle reckons that the result in that game might just be crucial, with Crystal Palace narrowly avoiding relegation to finish 16th on the Premier League table.
The author, however, predicts a final position similar to the one in the season gone by, with Eberechi Eze gradually settling in at the club to pave the way for a relatively comfortable, yet awkward run-in.
THT Prediction: 16th
Author Prediction: 14th