(Writer’s Note: This is the 10th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page)
CRYSTAL PALACE EAGLES
Manager: Roy Hodgson (Hire Date: Sept. 12, 2017)
Tenure Length: 13th/20 in Premier League and 46th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 11-11-16, 44 points, 11th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 45
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-10
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 6 (includes 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2013
Last Relegation: 2005
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Fourth-round loss (Bristol City)
2017-18 FA Cup: Third-round loss (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Roy Hodgson’s rescue mission of his hometown club will probably achieve legendary status when re-examined in later years. The former England manager came on board after Palace lost its first four matches — the attempted transition to Frank de Boer’s three-man back line was a complete disaster.
The switch to Hodgson did not start swimmingly either — the Eagles lost their first three matches under him, capped by hidings from Manchester City and Manchester United by a combined 9-0 scoreline. They became the first team in the 129 years of the Football League to fail to score a goal while losing their first seven contests.
The second international break came after the loss at Old Trafford and allowed Hodgson the opportunity to drill his basic defensive tenets into the side. There was a quick reward coming out of the break as Palace upended Chelsea 2-1 for their first league goal and victory of the campaign.
After being eliminated from the Carabao Cup, Palace could devote its undivided attention to climbing out of the cellar for the next two-plus months. The Eagles were still on one victory through 12 matches after a 1-0 defeat at Tottenham, but a 2-2 draw versus Everton started a run of 12 matches in which they claimed points in 11 of them (5-6-1).
A 1-0 victory over Burnley on Jan. 13 got Crystal Palace to 12th in the table, but Hodgson’s charges were dragged back into the relegation scrap with four losses on the trot as the Eagles slid to 18th following a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on matchday 30. James Tomkins and Luka Milivoejvic scored in a vital 2-0 win at Huddersfield Town the following match, and after a loss to Liverpool, the Eagles sprinted to the tape on a six-match unbeaten run (4-2-0), claiming 11th in the table by grabbing the maximum nine points from their final three contests.
POTENTIAL STARTING XI
With so much in flux for Palace beyond the back four, it is difficult get a gage on just how will be in the first XI Hodgson sends out for the lid-lifter at Craven Cottage versus Fulham. While Vicente Guaita was brought in from Getafe to challenge for the No. 1 shirt, incumbent Wayne Hennessey signed a three-year extension this summer and it should be his job to lose.
The back four should be set, and the hope is Patrick van Aanholt continues to grow into the position after serving as one of Palace’s best players in the second half of the season. Around Milivojevic and James McArthur, it almost feels like open season — Townsend will be there and Zaha will be there if he’s not on another club — but after that, it’s guesswork with veteran Jason Puncheon on the wing and Christian Benteke being given another chance to find his 2016-17 form.
THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS
Every transfer window would not be complete without breathless speculation that Zaha is going to jump to a bigger club, and it has been no different this summer. The Ivorian attacker, who was second on Palace with nine goals in league play last season, created an uproar when he took Palace information off his social media bio, but with no movement at the moment, it appears he is staying at Selhurst Park.
Until the January rumors start in mid-November. Or sooner.
The most glaring departures are in midfield, where Ruben-Loftus Cheek returned to Chelsea after his loan ended and Yohan Cabaye moved on a free transfer to Al Nasr of the Saudi Professional League. Cabaye’s 28 starts last season were tied for third-most among Palace players and when healthy, Loftus-Cheek was almost always a first-team player and made 21 starts ahead of his World Cup run with England.
To that end, Hodgson is reportedly interested in acquiring Liverpool’s Marko Grujic — Milivojevic’s Serbian teammate — on loan and also potentially Danny Drinkwater, who appears to be caught up in a numbers game with the arrival of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea. Drinkwater, who was a £35 million transfer from Leicester City last season, played just 22 matches in all competitions and battled through a calf injury early last term.
The team may also need to find a new left back if Timothy Fosu-Mensah does not return for a second loan spell from Manchester United. The 20-year-old made 17 starts for Crystal Palace last season, though the Eagles went 3-4-10 in those contests.
Crystal Palace’s big offseason acquisition thus far was getting Guaita from Getafe, where he had 13 wins and 12 shutouts in helping the Spanish side finish eighth in La Liga, its best since placing sixth in 2010. Guaita conceded just 26 goals in 33 matches, and one of those clean sheets came at the Nou Camp versus Barcelona.
THE GUY WORTH SEEING
Luka Milivojevic (MF)
This could be a breakout season for the 27-year-old Serbia international, and it may be one Crystal Palace needs to survive in the top flight. He led Palace with 10 goals in league play last season, though seven of them came from the penalty spot. Milivojevic also started in two matches in the World Cup for the Orlovi, who failed to progress out of the group stage behind Brazil and Switzerland.
He will need some help without Loftus-Cheek and Cabaye, though Puncheon could ease some of that worry. A deep-sitting midfielder, Milivojevic will be under pressure to help Palace transition from defence to offence and get the ball ahead to Townsend and Zaha.
Per Ladbrokes, oddsmakers are fairly confident on Palace staying up as they are joint-ninth with West Ham United at 6/1 odds to be relegated. The Eagles are level with Newcastle United at 4/11 odds to finish in the bottom half of the table and joint-seventh with the Magpies for a top-half finish at 11/5. Palace also has 20/1 odds of cracking the top six and 66/1 odds for a Champions League spot by placing in the first four.
FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES
Aug. 11 — Fulham (N/A) A
Aug. 18 — Liverpool (4th) H
Aug. 26 — Watford (14th) A
Sept. 1 — Southampton (17th) H
April 20 — Arsenal (6th) A
April 27 — Everton (8th) H
May 4 — Cardiff City (N/A)
May 12 — Bournemouth (12th) H
There are no two similar ways to look at Crystal Palace. On the positive side of the ledger is Hodgson being there for a full preseason and removing a repeat of the tumult that happened in the disastrous early part of last season. On the negative side is the departure of Loftus-Cheek without an obvious replacement for his industry in the midfield.
On the positive side is the playmaking skills of Townsend, whom Palace is determined to keep. On the negative is the on-going hope Benteke puts it all together and re-discovers his 15-goal form 2016-17 after totaling just three in league play last term. And they may need the Denmark international to do that if Zaha does jump ship for a bigger club before the summer window closes.
It’s worth remembering Crystal Palace did not record a single point in the 10 matches Zaha did not play last season. Zero. Zilch. Nil. Nada.
It’s a balance that sees Crystal Palace with the potential of grafting its way into the top half of the table with the realisation it could also be one or two devastating injuries from being involved in another relegation scrap without suitable replacements up front. That Hodgson has already told supporters to brace for another such tussle ran counter to his optimism in May, so it really may be a wait-and-see approach through the first few matches to figure out which way Palace will trend.
PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS
July 18 — Fulham July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace August 6 — Manchester City