It’s almost that time again. The new Premier League season is nearly upon us, and there is a Christmas Eve feel of excitement surrounding it.
As opposed to the usual summer boredom in between each season, we were at least treated to a phenomenal World Cup to satisfy our football related cravings. However, that’s over now, and I think we can all agree that the 2018/19 season needs to arrive sharpish.
In Crystal Palace’s case, it looked to be a bleak season ahead a few weeks ago, with just one summer signing in the form of Vicente Guaita arriving at Selhurst Park having also lost Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Despite that, there is now cause for optimism as the signings slowly arrive and Wilfried Zaha grows ever closer to staying put in south London. Max Meyer’s arrival hasn’t done much to quash this optimism, only fuel it greatly.
Could Roy Hodgson take his Eagles into the depths of Europe, like he did with his Fulham team of 2009/10? We can only dream…
1. Last Season
Last season began poorly to say the least. Very poorly. So poorly, in fact, that records were broken it was that poor. Did I mention it was poor?
The Eagles lost their first seven games without scoring a goal, as well as conceding 17 in doing so. However, things did start to pick up after Roy Hodgson’s arrival.
Palace went on a club record eight-game unbeaten run across November and December, putting them back within touching distance of the clubs above them. Well, that being said, every other club in the league was above the Eagles.
An injury crisis like never before swept through the club, resulting in Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend having to hold the mantle up top as unorthodox strikers, Cabaye playing week in week out at 60% fitness, and young prospect Aaron Wan-Bissaka drafted in at right back.
In January, only Alexander Sørloth arrived from FC Midtjylland in a £9m deal, as well as two truly strange signings in Jaroslaw Jach and Erdal Rakip.
Jach, a £2m signing from Zaglebie Lubin, and Rakip, a loan signing from Benfica, made a combined 0 appearances and are both no longer with the club.
Anyways, the eleven or so that did manage to stay fit fought tooth and nail for the club’s Premier League status, and managed to secure an impressive 11th placed finish despite recording the worst start to a Premier League season.
The 5-0 home win over Leicester was also the club’s biggest ever Premier League win. That result, and the end to the season as a whole, offers a shedload of optimism for the season ahead.
2. Transfers In
Crystal Palace’s summer activity began with an addition that had already agreed to come to SE25 back in January; Vicente Guaita, the former Getafe keeper, will now battle Wayne Hennessey and Julian Speroni for the number one shirt.
Having had their finances restricted through existing payments needing to be sorted, such as the instalments owed to Liverpool for the Mamadou Sakho and Christian Benteke deals, it was a very quiet summer.
With just over a week to go, however, Steve Parish was either granted some sort of financial boost from David Blitzer and Josh Harris, the US Investors, or decided to plunge the club into ruin. Either way, the signings began to materialise.
Cheikhou Kouyate, of West Ham and Senegal, arrived in an initial £9.5m deal to bolster the midfield ranks weakened by the aforementioned loss of Cabaye and Loftus-Cheek.
The former Anderlecht man’s arrival had been dwarfed somewhat by the imminent arrival of arguably the coup of the summer; the Schalke and Germany star Max Meyer on a free transfer.
Meyer should be the perfect replacement for Cabaye, and prove to be the perfect foil for Kouyate and Luka Milivojevic’s robustness.
Injuries were the hardest struggle of last season for Palace, so depth was key. Jordan Ayew may still arrive from Swansea in a swap deal for Jairo Riedewald, whilst Tammy Abraham may come to Selhurst Park on a loan move from Chelsea, as too could Ruben Loftus-Cheek if he is deemed surplus to requirements again.
Parish, not put off by the last forward he signed from Liverpool in Benteke, may also go back to Anfield for Danny Ings in a big money move for someone so affected by injuries in recent years.
3. Transfers Out
After a severely injury hit campaign last season, new faces were needed in south London on top of the existing crop. So, when Cabaye departed for Al-Nasr after the expiry of his contract and Bakary Sako rejected a fresh deal, things weren’t looking great.
Additionally, after Lee Chung-Yong, Diego Cavalieri, Damien Delaney and Jach all left Selhurst Park, reinforcements were a desperate necessity.
Whilst Cabaye will be sorely missed, and Sako will be missed too in some ways, all of the others were fringe players at best. Many inside Selhurst Park may not even realise they’ve departed.
Asides from the obvious strength up top in Wilfried Zaha, the formidable duo of Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins at the back for Palace is yet to taste defeat in 20 games playing alongside each other.
Behind them, new arrival Vicente Guaita recorded the third highest save success rate in La Liga last season with Getafe, saving 77.5% of shots faced over the season. With the Spaniard behind the aforementioned pair, and the impressive Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Patrick van Aanholt either side of them, defence could be a massive strength for the Eagles this season.
Additionally, the presence and awareness of both Milivojevic and Meyer in midfield could work wonders in getting the best out of Zaha up top. Both midfielders are excellent defensively and can also spot a pass with movement ahead of them; as it stands, Palace look like a well oiled machine for the season ahead.
Before Guaita’s arrival, the Eagles’ had a bit of a goalkeeping worry last season with the ageing Julian Speroni and the error laden Wayne Hennessey as their only options. Should Guaita start slowly, or suffer an injury, allowing Hennessey back into the starting XI could pose a weakness for the Eagles.
Furthermore, whilst they are heavily stocked in the striking department, all of Christian Benteke, Connor Wickham and Alexander Sorloth are yet to prove they can lead the line effectively this season.
Wickham has been injured for almost two years, Sorloth is yet to score competitively since arriving in January, and Benteke just had the worst season of his career; finding an out and out forward to make a difference may just be near the top of Hodgson’s concerns.
6. Key Man
I think you can guess this one pretty easily. Palace failed to pick up a single point in the Premier League last season without their Ivorian talisman, struggling significantly throughout Zaha’s spell on the sidelines through injury.
The Eagles’ academy graduate scored nine goals in 29 appearances last season, finishing as the club’s top scorer despite missing nine games with a knee issue.
Parish and Hodgson are well within their rights to demand around £70m for his signature from interested clubs, but one thing is for certain; his value to Palace is unquestionably worth more than that figure.
Potential Breakout: Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s breakthrough last year has seen him become one of the first names on the teamsheet. Expect the 20-year-old to continue his development, but also keep an eye on England U19 midfielder Nya Kirby, who has been tipped for big things at Selhurst Park since arriving from Tottenham last February.
With the Holmesdale Fanatics’ situation still unclear after a failed attempt to move into the middle of the Holmesdale Stand to further enhance the noise, this season could be quite poor atmosphere wise. The group have allegedly disbanded after feeling mistreated by Parish.
Anyways, on the pitch, everything looks all set up for the Eagles’ to have a fantastic season in what will be their sixth consecutive Premier League season.
Having said that, I recall sitting here writing about how brilliant a season Palace were set to have under Frank de Boer’s scintillating style of play, but that sense of optimism has more credibility about it with Hodgson at the helm.
The Croydon born boss has overseen a solid pre-season not seen by Palace fans in many years, with some excellent results and astute signings in what is a tough market making a nice change from seeing managers jump ship a day before the season starts (yes, I’m looking at you Tony Pulis).
With perhaps one or two more new faces, or one new face and one fairly familiar face (come on Ruben, you know you want to) through the door at Selhurst Park before Thursday’s 5pm deadline, Palace will be in fine fettle.
Could Hodgson oversee another unlikely European qualification with Palace, like he managed during his time at Fulham? We can only dream…