Crystal Palace 2023/24 Premier League Season Preview | The Hard Tackle

Ahead of the 2023/24 Premier League season, The Hard Tackle takes an in-depth look at Crystal Palace, who enter the new campaign firmly intent on ending their bottom-half hoodoo.

Crystal Palace head into the 2023/24 Premier League season back under the permanent charge of Roy Hodgson, whose return to Palace for the final months of the 2022/23 season was originally expected to just be a stop-fix. But the veteran Englishman, still going strong at 75, still has an unrivalled dedication and passion for management, and the Eagles saw fit to keep him at Selhurst Park for another year.

And why not? He came out of retirement for a second spell at Selhurst Park in March with a mission to keep the South London side afloat in the Premier League, a task he accomplished more swiftly than perhaps even the most optimistic supporters would have imagined.

By miles, the oldest man ever to manage in the Premier League, Hodgson put many of his younger counterparts to shame last season, having revitalised Patrick Vieira’s drifting squad and steering Crystal Palace clear of danger while playing surprisingly exciting and thrilling football.

Hodgson has traditionally been a defence-first manager, and we saw some free-flowing attacking football from Crystal Palace towards the end of last season, it remains to be seen whether the 75-year-old will revert to type in light of a contingency, having lost talisman Wilfried Zaha and transfer-linked Michael Olise injured for the start of the season.

And after securing an 11th-place finish last term — one point above the hapless Chelsea — can Hodgson’s side go one step better in the Premier League this season? Or will the team’s lack of transfer activity hurt their chances of success this season? The Hard Tackle has got you covered with a comprehensive season preview that provides all the essential information you need to know about the Eagles heading into the new season.

The Prelude

When Patrick Vieira was sacked as manager in March, Crystal Palace found themselves just three points clear of the relegation zone after 27 matches of the Premier League season and struggling to find the back of the net. A dismal 4-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium followed, overseen by then Under-21s head coach Paddy McCarthy.

Hodgson was then re-appointed as manager until the end of the season, a bold call viewed as a real lack of ambition by many. However, he inspired a major turnaround by improving the form of key players, as they went on to win five of their last 10 games and amass 18 points to climb to an 11th-place finish whilst also scoring goals for fun as evident by 5-1 victory over Leeds and 4-3 win over West Ham.

Overall, he oversaw just two defeats from 10 matches in charge as Palace ultimately secured Premier League safety with relative ease. The season would finish with a 2-0 home triumph over AFC Bournemouth and back-to-back draws against Fulham and Nottingham Forest, bringing a revitalised and optimistic vibe back to Selhurst Park.

Hodgson lined his men up in a 4-1-4-1 formation last season, which can be seen as a variation of his usually preferred 4-2-3-1 setup, which helped to bring out the best of Eze and Olise without sacrificing team chemistry and balance.

Given that Hodgson was tasked with using any means necessary to steady a sinking ship, the decision to ditch the possession-heavy setup and play to the team’s strengths bore fruit instantly. Exploiting the wide areas a lot transformed the Eagles into a highly expansive side on the ball and deadly in the transitional phase.

It made sense, as that’s generally where you can find some of Palace’s most dangerous difference-makers, like Zaha, Olise, or even Eze. With the full-backs and midfielders tasked with joining the attack often and the centre-backs encouraged to play long ball switches, the speed and verticality at which they could move up the pitch were frightening and became one of Palace’s primary weapons in possession.

The main question is to what extent Hodgson will apply these same overly attacking tactics this season, as lacking compactness in the middle third of the pitch has a risk element attached to it, more so if and when they lose the ball up high.

Palace’s success often hinges on their high-speed, high-verticality approach. And, if their summer recruitment strategy is anything to go by, they are likely to keep the same tactics, at least to begin with. The arrival of Jefferson Lerma hints at our analogy, as two proper defensive midfielders are required to cover large spaces in Hodgson’s aforementioned setup.

Squad Update

It is safe to say Crystal Palace are in desperate need of new signings. An inability to fork out sizeable cash this summer has left some Selhurst Park faithful slightly frustrated. But there is a general agreement with the recent shift in their recruitment strategy that prioritises acquiring young, hungry players with a high resale value.

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Recently, Roy Hodgson himself urged chairman Steve Parish and sporting director Dougie Freedman into action after losing five key players. The Eagles have lost star player Wilfried Zaha on a free transfer this summer, along with veterans James McArthur and Luka Milivojevic and other senior players, but have so far brought in just Jefferson Lerma on a free transfer from Bournemouth.

Without a doubt, it is shrewd acquisition by the Eagles. The 28-year-old missed just one league game, playing over 3,000 minutes — more minutes for the south coast club than any other player. The tough-tackling defensive midfielder contributed a career-best five goals to the Cherries’ survival bid last term; however, his remit at Crystal Palace is still going to be more focused on stopping goals than scoring them.

A grafter with a bite, he is of a similar mould to Doucoure, a battling destructor. To have a midfield base so defensively assured would give Palace’s livewire attackers licence to flood forward and express themselves.

Speaking of flair players, Palace are also closing in on a deal worth around £26 million to sign 19-year-old Flamengo winger Matheus Franca, who has been linked with Chelsea and Newcastle in recent months.

Such is the teenager’s promise, Crystal Palace have happily agreed to pay another €5 million should Franca win the Ballon d’Or in the future, and Flamengo will also receive 20% on any future sale.

Anyways, this is a huge coup for Palace, who look ready to fast-track Franca straight into Hodgson’s setup, which is in desperate need of a refresh following Zaha’s free transfer to Galatasaray. Olise is not expected to be back training until September at the earliest after he suffered a grade-three hamstring injury with the France Under-21s at the European Championships.

To add to that, Olise is also being courted by both Chelsea and Manchester City and is a player that could be the subject of offers in the final weeks of the summer transfer window. The Frenchman’s current contract is said to include a release clause worth in the region of £35 million, which could leave Crystal Palace powerless if that figure is matched by admirers.

Franca is someone who will get the Palace fans off their seats thanks to his mazy dribbles, burst of speed, and technical as well as finishing ability. He also seems to boast excellent versatility, having played in six various positions on the pitch since first breaking onto the scene, including across the frontline and two roles in the midfield, making him a great option to have available.

Even after signing the Brazilian sensation, there will remain serious concerns over the strength and depth of Hodgson’s squad, but it feels like Palace finally look to have got the ball rolling with regards to their summer transfer activity and could be set to complete more deals between now and the end of August.

This season could also bring additional minutes for gifted academy products Jesurun Rak-Sakyi, a fleet-footed winger; left-back Tayo Adaramola; and Malcolm Ebiowei, who is now returning from loan at Hull City after impressing in the Championship as a tricky winger on the right side of the pitch.

Key Fixtures

The Eagles travel to newly promoted Sheffield United on the opening weekend, and Crystal Palace will be confident of picking up where they left off last season against one of the weaker sides in the Premier League.

Gameweeks 2 and 7 will be tricky for Palace as they will face Arsenal and Manchester United. Usually, the Eagles have a reputation for nicking points against the big boys; however, the teams struggled to do the same last time out, as they failed to secure a single victory against the traditional Big Six, although draws against Liverpool, Newcastle, and Manchester United were impressive.

Their biggest challenge for the team will come over the hectic festive period, when they will square up against Liverpool (H) and Manchester City (A). The eagerly awaited clash with old Brighton & Hove Albion is on December 23 at Selhurst Park, with the return fixture at the Amex on February 3.

They head to Chelsea on Boxing Day and then host Brentford to wrap up the intense schedule that will see them play at least seven league games in December. Achieving a respectable position in and around mid-table by the end of the year would provide an excellent foundation for a top-ten finish. However, to achieve the desired target, Hodgson must shift his players’ mentality.

An evident trend from recent seasons is that complacency sets in after hitting the 40-point safety mark, and the players start dreaming of vacation destinations and beaches now that their job of keeping Palace afloat in the English top-flight is done. To finish strong, it’s vital that they remain focused and motivated until the end of the season.

Key Players

Eberechi Eze

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Eberechi Eze racked up 14 goal contributions (ten goals and four assists) in 38 Premier League matches for Crystal Palace last season, as he firmly established himself as the Eagles’ top-performing player. Following the arrival of Roy Hodgson in March, the 24-year-old largely played in the midfield three. He constantly made plenty of late runs into the box, however, and found himself in goalscoring positions on a consistent basis.

It remains to be seen where Hodgson will deploy him next season, as Palace look short on attackers right now after Zaha’s departure. And with Michael Olise out injured for the foreseeable future, which means Eze could be required to play on the left wing. Regardless, he is the key man for Crystal Palace, and will take up plenty of attacking positions, whether playing in midfield or out wide.

The player also proved to be a threat in the attacking third, aside from his goalscoring contributions. He ranked in the 99th percentile for successful take-ons amongst his positional peers and registered 70 shots in the Premier League last season, which was the highest tally throughout the entire squad, via FBref, highlighting that he loves to dribble past his marker and fire shots at the opposition goalkeeper.

He does not even require many opportunities to convert, nor do the different kinds of finishes in his locker vastly limit him. He will continue to be an important attacking piece of Hodgson’s jigsaw heading into the new season, and the veteran coach’s decision to restore him to the squad after being abandoned by Patrick Vieira now seems like a stroke of genius.

Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen

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There are several players who deserve a shoutout, as do other key players such as pivot midfielder Cheick Doucoure, who was the fans’ Player of the Year in his debut season but went under the radar elsewhere. He excels in every aspect and is crucial to the way Crystal Palace set up in the 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 system.

The same goes for Michael Olise, who added consistency to his game last season after a promising debut campaign. The silky winger is a nightmare for even the experienced full-backs, and his 13 goal involvements, including 11 assists and a spectacular late free-kick against Manchester United, accounted for almost one-third of Palace’s goals.

However, no Crystal Palace player is as crucial as the formidable centre-back partnership of Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi at the heart of defence. The centre-back duo earned admirers from across the Premier League with their rock-solid performances in the heart of the Eagles defence in the last couple of seasons.

They appear to have a natural understanding of each other’s game, as illustrated by their complementary roles. First and foremost, the duo have showcased their technical ability and tactical intelligence, as well as their ability to head the ball away in aerial duels.

Guehi serves as the marker thanks to his natural power, recovery speed, and imposing physical attributes. Andersen’s ball-playing abilities are more impressive, with the Dane regularly firing diagonal and crossfield passes to either wing in order to quickly shift play and start attacks.

Thus, the Dane acts almost as a composed, deep-lying playmaking stopper and relies on his game reading to be at the right place at the right moment to snuck out danger. Aside from their defensive contributions, they could also pose a significant threat on the other end of the pitch. Of the two, Guehi has historically had a greater goal threat, while Andersen has been known to pick up assists from his long-range passes.

Keeping their two star defenders at Selhurst Park could be pivotal to the capital club’s success this season, and Hodgson will be desperately hoping they continue to produce dominant displays at the back, providing a solid foundation for his promising Palace side to build on, especially if he opts for defence-first tactics.

Season Expectations

Is it a cop out to say that Palace should have only one clear objective this season: push for the top 10? Yes. Will we still do it anyway? Yes.

The Eagles have usually avoided nail-biting relegation dogfights quite comfortably on most occasions. But after a decade in the Premier League, there’s a burning desire to take the next step. Ever since getting promoted in 2013, they have finished between tenth and 15th every year— decent but hardly remarkable. So, will they break this cycle this time around?

It’s difficult to see them being dragged into a relegation battle, as there are clearly three worse sides than them in the division. Newly-promoted sides Sheffield United and Luton Town have hardly done anything in the transfer window to suggest they are going to beat the relegation odds. Meanwhile, Last season’s narrow escapers Everton, Wolves, and Nottingham Forest are also set to struggle, by the looks of things.

Palace boast some of the most exciting young talent in the Premier League, with some academy gems waiting on the wings to breakout next season. They are led by the most experienced manager around. Last season hinted that Hodgson has grown more adventurous with age and would let his squad freedom to  attack.

Well, with one or two new additions on top of Franca, it wouldn’t be out of the question if they head in the opposite direction and push for top 10. Bringing in a reliable goalscorer in the transfer window would certainly boost their chances, as it would multiply the impact of their transitional power.

However, this is a huge ask, and there’s also a massive asterisk. They need to retain the reliable core of the side, which includes Guehi, Andersen, Cheick Doucoure, Eze, and Olise, all of whom are being continually linked with the Premier League’s big guns in the rumour mill.

Losing any of the aforementioned star players could be a huge blow to their prospects next season. While they may receive the additional funds to initiate a rebuild, it would be a significant risk to do so. Finding suitable replacements and getting them up to speed quickly is no easy feat.

Therefore, it’s essential that the Eagles do everything in their power to keep their assets and show their ambition, like fellow Londoners Brentford and Fulham.

It should also be noted plenty of Palace’s mid-table rivals have arguably strengthened to a greater degree than Hodgson’s side have, so the Selhurst Park faithful will likely have to wait for their side to finally break into the top half, and the Hard Tackle predict a 12th-place finish for them, perhaps even a slightly more entertaining 11th than usual if things fall into their favour.

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