Crystal Palace spotlight: Can Eagles capitalise on impressive start?
The 2023/24 Premier League season is almost one month old, and fans have been given a glimpse at what’s to come. Crystal Palace are one team that have flown slightly under the radar thus far…
Crystal Palace have become a mainstay in the Premier League since promotion to the top flight, back in the 2013/14 season.
During their current 10 year stint in the Premier League they have never finished above 10th place, becoming a stalwart middle-table side – however, the new season has shown cause for optimism, as the Eagles have impressed during their first four matches.
But how well can Crystal Place and their fans realistically expect to perform this season?
The 2022/23 Premier League season was a tough on for the south London side.
Patrick Vieira was sacked as manager in March 2023, after Palace suffered a run of 12 games without a win – including a three game run where the side failed to even register a shot on target.
In his first season at the reins, the Frenchman led the club to an unsurprising 12th place league finish, as well as an FA Cup semi-final – where they lost to Chelsea.
However, after last season’s poor run of form leaving the club languishing just three points above relegation, Vieira was sacked. He was replaced by the very man he had previously succeeded – Roy Hodgson.
The re-appointment caused some division amongst fans and pundits alike, given Hodgson’s age and the fact that Vieira was originally brought into move the club forward from his style of play.
The veteran manager silenced any critics quickly, though, steadying the ship early on and pushing Crystal Palace to an 11th place finish – now, Hodgson remains at the helm, and has taken a confident, strong side into the new season.
The 2023/24 season has seen a strong start for the Eagles. They have won two and drawn one of their four opening matches – scoring five goals and conceding four.
Though their goal record may suggest otherwise, their performances have been somewhat impressive thus far – securing wins against newly-promoted Sheffield United and relegation candidates Wolverhampton Wanderers, while also taking an away point from Brentford. Their loss came in an unfortunate 1-0 defeat at home to title-chasers Arsenal.
Palace are by no means setting the league alight in the way that a certain Manchester City or Brighton and Hove Albion side might – they’ve scored and conceded almost the same amount of goals thus far. But it’s easy to see that there is a clear structure to their side, which is due to the strong, reliable spine they have created for the team.
While the statistics don’t entirely flatter, the Crystal Palace defence is enviable. Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi make up one of the best centre-back pairings in the Premier League, with English full-backs Joel Ward and Tyrick Mitchell offering experience and determination either side of them.
Andersen and Guehi allow their side valuable composure and possession on the ball in defensive areas, with the former often driving forward to initiate attacking situations or allow his teammates to push further up the pitch to create goal threat – both central defenders also offer aerial threat in attack, in the form of set-pieces.
In front of the defence, sits a diligent and improved midfield with Cheick Doucoure and new arrival Jefferson Lerma. An energetic, physical pairing that can cover important areas between defence and attack, allowing security for their centre-backs and freedom for their attackers – namely, Eberechi Eze, who is currently averaging 3.25 chances created per game.
In attack, Palace seem to have their strikers firing well. Odsonne Edouard has struck three goals in four games thus far, with Jean-Philippe Mateta assisting twice in two games from the bench.
Jordan Ayew also has two assists in four starts, alongside offering important width and space to the side – the Eagles produced a hugely impressive 11 shots on target as they beat Wolves 3-2 during their last outing, with and expected goals on target of 3.88.
Something out of the control of the club that could also help their season, is the potentially hectic schedule of other clubs – Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Brighton all feature in European competitions this season, and could have injury/rotation concerns.
This is certainly something Crystal Palace could capitalise on throughout the season.
There are a number of players that will be key to any success obtained by Crystal Palace this season. With the departure of club hero Wilfried Zaha, the attacking burden will need to spread amongst some important names in the side.
All eyes will be on two faces in particular with Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise producing a number of fantastic performances last season – the former ended the 2022/23 season with 14 goal contributions in 30 starts, while the latter produced 13 goal contributions in 31 starts.
Olise is yet to feature this season, due a hamstring injury sustained back in June 2023. He is expected to return mid-September this year, after Palace fought off summer interest from Chelsea and Manchester City – retaining the Frenchman’s services is a huge boost for the club and he is sure to contribute heavily following his highly-anticipated return.
Football isn’t played through two players, however, and Palace have a number of other players who have a regular impact on the side’s fortunes.
The aforementioned centre-back pairing of Andersen and Guehi will prove to be pivotal to a strong, successful season; with the midfield duo of Doucoure and Lerma operating as a central hub for their teammates to create chances and put opponents on the back foot.
Arguably the most underrated player in this Crystal Palace side, however, is Jordan Ayew.
The Ghanaian has been a mainstay in Roy Hodgson’s tenure in south London, due to his diligence and energy levels when closing down opposition players, his ability to offer width and space for his teammates to pass into, and his willingness to track back and help out defensively.
Ayew goes under the radar a lot due to his less than flattering numbers regarding goals and assists – but make no mistake, the forward is an increasingly important cog in the Palace machine, and will be integral to Palace having a good season.
Although Crystal Palace have started the season in good stead and their key players are performing well, the club does have cause for concern.
While they have started strong despite the absence of key man Olise, there is an argument that the squad lacks any real quality depth.
Their right-back depth consists of 33-year-old Joel Ward and 32-year-old Nathaniel Clyne.
Centre-back cover is made up of new arrival Rob Holding, 34-year-old James Tomkins and a young defender lacking in Premier League experience in 23-year-old Chris Richards.
Midfield probably holds the most depth in terms of replacements, but again there’s an argument to be made that Jairo Riedewald and Will Hughes may not be of sufficient quality to stand in for Doucoure and Lerma.
In attack, outside of the regular starters, Palace hold a number of promising young forwards – notably Matheus Franca, whom fans seem to be excited about. However, the Eagles failed to bring in a replacement for Wilfried Zaha, who consistently carried the club in attack during his nine year stay at the club.
Should an unfortunate spell of injuries hit the club at any point, they could find themselves in trouble very quickly.
Crystal Palace are taking steps in the right direction. Keeping hold of a dependable, technically proficient centre-back pairing is excellent business as it is – fighting off interest in Doucoure, Eze and Olise, whilst adding Lerma to the fray, elevates them to a comfortable top 10 side with hopes of a potential push for European places.
Should they ride their luck and avoid any serious injuries to their key players and keep their forwards firing, the Eagles could be the team to watch this season.
Will Palace take advantage of a strong start and other side’s congested schedules?
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