Crystal Palace: Can Hodgson strike magic once more?
In a footballing world of positional play and inverted full-backs, sometimes nothing beats an air of calm and stability. Reappointed as Crystal Palace boss back in March having managed the South London side between 2017-21, Roy Hodgson faced the difficult task of steering a side that hadn’t won since New Year’s Eve to safety.
The former England boss took over from Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira, who replaced Hodgson just 18 months prior. Having guided Palace to 12th in 21/22, showing initial promise with their high pressing and possession based style, Vieira’s regime began to falter. The loss of Conor Gallagher, who returned to Chelsea following a season long loan hurt their chances. A few key injuries led to an eleven game winless run in the league, and the end of the Frenchman’s tenure at Selhurst Park.
Unfazed having seen it all across a forty one year managerial career, Hodgson took the Eagles back to basics. He established a set back five consisting of goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, with Ward, Andersen, Guehi and Mitchell in front. The high energy midfield trio of Schlupp, Doucoure and Eze provided Palace with the physicality and balance they had lacked in previous months. Olise would drift in off the right to link with the latter as Edouard and Ayew formed a nice partnership up top, leading Palace to three wins from their first four under Hodgson, including a 5-1 demolition of Leeds at Elland Road.
Five wins and two draws from their last ten games ensured Palace finished in eleventh, a point above Chelsea. All the more impressive, considering star man Wilfried Zaha missed a large part of the run in. Going into the 23/24 campaign, many Palace fans hold concerns that the club could struggle to sustain their top flight status, with Zaha joining Galatasaray on a free transfer last month. Here we take a look at some factors that could see Hodgson’s men surprise a few this season.
Despite Zaha’s departure, Palace haven’t shown panic in the market thus far. Exciting Brazil under-20 international Matheus Franca is a hugely impressive coup. Chelsea, Man City and Real Madrid were all monitoring the youngster. An attacking midfield that can also play through the middle, Franca is a product of the same youth system that brought the likes of Vinicius Junior and Lucas Paqueta to the game. Recognising his talent, Flamengo inserting a staggering £171m release clause in his contract back in February, the largest in their history.
Having picked Franca up for around £20m, the prospect of him linking up with Eze and Olise in transitions could make Palace everyone’s second team this season. Fellow South American Jefferson Lerma has joined on a free transfer from Bournemouth and suits the current dynamic of Hodgson’s midfield set-up, and his five Premier League goals last season shows he could provide a decent option in a box to box role.
Promising Chelsea youngster Lewis Hall is on the verge of joining on loan and creates good competition for Tyrick Mitchell at left back, whilst talks are underway with Bayer Leverkusen over a loan deal including a £24m option to buy for Odilon Kossounou. Leverkusen have a history of developing strong centre halves with Edmond Tapsoba and Piero Hincapie earning interests from Europe’s elite.
The 6 foot 3 Ivorian earned a move to Germany two seasons ago after some impressive performances for Club Brugge in the Champions League. Quick, agile and comfortable on the ball, Kossounou could allow Palace to switch to a back three, or be an adequate replacement for Joachim Andersen. Newcastle are rumoured to be weighing up a £40m swoop for the Dane, although a deal looks unlikely at this moment in time.
A move for Folarin Balogun may materialise towards the end of the window, with Palace looking to improve on their return of 40 goals in just 38 league outings last time out. His twenty two goals on loan in France last campaign coupled with Franca’s edition could easily replace Zaha’s goals and fire Palace closer to the top half.
A lot of Palace’s rivals are facing complications on the eve of the season getting up and running. Fulham have lost Joao Palhinha to a dislocated shoulder, while talisman Alexander Mitrovic has reportedly refused to play for the club again after they knocked backed two bids from Saudi side Al-Hilal. Everton and Wolves are strapped for cash as FFP lurks in the shadows, with the latter’s boss Julen Lopetegui terminating his deal just 48 hours ago.
West Ham have the opposite problem. Flushed with cash after Arsenal’s £105m deal for Declan Rice, the rest of the footballing world are giving the hammers a taste of their own medicine by pricing them out of top targets. Edson Alvarez has just arrived with James Ward-Prowse set to follow, but both will need time to settle under Moyes. Brentford have lost 20 goal focal point Ivan Toney until January, and Bournemouth are overhauling their style under new boss Andoni Iraola. All this is happening and that’s without factoring in the newly promoted sides.
Hodgson has had a full pre season working with the same side that repayed his faith throughout the run in. It looks like key men Marc Guehi and Michael Olise will stay at Selhurst too after links to Tottenham and Manchester City Respectively. There’s also the potential of a few youngsters breaking into the first team fold, with Palace’s Under 18s and 21’s finishing 3rd and 4th in their respective divisons. Zach Marsh, Ademola Ola-Adebomi and Junior Dixon could be a few to look out for.
Off the back of a decent Pre-season in which they beat Lyon 2-0 and held Europa League winners Sevilla to a draw, Palace look best placed to capitalise on the jeopardy between rival sides.
The team almost looked relieved when Hodgson came back in, with Eberechi Eze in particular playing with an air of freedom that earned him a maiden call up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad. The former QPR midfielder was signed by Hodgson in 2020 and has been one of the club’s outstanding performers when fully fit. Upon his arrival at St George’s Park for England’s Euro qualifiers in June, Eze spoke glowingly of the impact Hodgson has had on him and the Palace squad:
“You can see from what he did throughout all that time towards the end of the season how effective he was, the influence he had on the players, the mindset, the confidence, the freedom we all played with. It was something we hadn’t experienced for a little while so I am hugely grateful to him.
“I think you could see in the performances every weekend the confidence we had. For sure, day to day seeing him around the place and how he takes to each individual player, it’s a lot. Again, I see him as someone who helped me so much and put me in a position to express myself and without that opportunity I’m not in this position here.”
Going into their opener against Sheffield United tomorrow, Palace will fancy their chances of getting off to a strong start and laying down a marker for the season. Considering the chaos around them, it’s not inconceivable for the Eagles to to be aiming to break the top ten this time round.