Crystal Palace mid season review – progression or stagnation?
After Crystal Palace‘s dramatic escape at the end of last season, fans were keen to finally build on their success and progress as a club. Seven months on, Palace find themselves in fourteenth place in the Premier League with nineteen points total. So it’s worth assessing – how successful have the club been with their objectives?
Mixed performances, disappointing results
It’s been yet another inconsistent season for Palace in terms of results. By far their biggest highlight so far was last Saturday’s 3-2 win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. With wins against Burnley and Leicester coming earlier in December, it allowed Palace to pull away from the bottom three
However, our current position is somewhat misleading. In reality, Palace have spent the majority of the season flirting with the bottom three places. This is due to a number of frankly dire performances that Palace fans are no doubt used to by now, but were desperately hoping would be reduced during this season. The most humiliating came against arch-rivals Brighton, in which we found ourselves 3-0 down at halftime despite the opponents being reduced to ten men after 15 minutes. Even when Brighton gave up possession, we were so half-hearted to take the ball forward and even try to create anything.
The other problem is that we simply don’t take our chances. Against teams like Cardiff, Newcastle, or even Manchester United, there were plenty of opportunities where we could’ve scored and come away with a victory. But instead, we missed countless easy chances and blew our opportunity to climb up the table.
In short, while we can be satisfied with where we are now, we cannot delude ourselves that there it will definitely be a comfortable end to the season. There is still work to be done to iron out our inconsistencies.
The manager – updating or outdated?
After his miraculous revival of Palace the previous season, fans were hoping Roy Hodgson would bring stability to the club. The results have been very mixed overall. The club currently sits seven clear of Burnley in 18th. Given the season we had last year, this was a position many fans would certainly have taken at the beginning of the year.
Hodgson also seems adamant about sticking to his preferred 4-4-2 formation. The problem is, with Connor Wickham & Christian Benteke out through injury for most of the season, Palace only have two recognised strikers to play – Jordan Ayew and Alexander Sorloth. With both failing to impress, Hodgson instead decided to stick both Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend up front instead. Apart from highlighting Palace’s need for a new striker, placing two players in their unpreferred positions is confusing, to say the least. Zaha, in particular, is famously lethal on the wing, winning Palace’s player of the season in the past two years in that position. And Townsend himself has admitted he has trouble scoring from inside the box. Given the phenomenal goals that he scored against Burnley and especially Manchester City, moving him to a role that requires him to be in and around the box seems extremely counterproductive.
In my eyes, this team is much more suited to a 4-3-3. Zaha and Townsend are wingers, first and foremost, and they must stay there. With Connor Wickham fit again, we can play him in between them and use him as the focal point for our attack. Our midfield three could be a combination of any of Luka Milovojevic, Max Meyer, James McArthur and Cheikou Kouyate. And to be fair, Roy did switch to this exact team after 60 minutes against Cardiff, proving he his open to change at least somewhat.
For many, Wilfried Zaha was the one to watch going into this season and it’s not hard to see why. Before the Leicester match a few weeks ago, Palace hadn’t won so much as a point in over two years without him. But this season, the Ivory Coast international hasn’t quite been the player he was last season. This is partly due to the new role he has been playing this season, as mentioned above. With less opportunities to drift out wide it’s harder for him to have the same impact in games he did last season. On the other hand, he has also created the 10th most chances in the Premier League this season, so he is definitely still a threat to opposing teams.
Our best player this season by far has to be right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The 21-year-old Palace academy graduate has continued his sparkling debut into this season in some style. He is the only Premier League player to complete more than 60 tackles and 40 interceptions this season and his sparkling performances have managed to shine through even in some of Palace’s worst showings. His most notable performance has to be against City, in which he managed to keep shut out one of the most dangerous wingers in the league in Leroy Sane for the entire game. City themselves have reportedly shown interest in him and it’s not hard to see why. If we want any hope of success this season, we need to keep ahold of our newest superstar.
What do we need going forward?
Investment in January is an absolute must. It’s no secret what Palace need – a goalscorer. Specifically, a fast, clinical finisher than can benefit alongside Benteke or Wickham’s holdup play. And in my opinion, this is the only position we desperately need.
However, scepticism will no doubt be high amongst Palace fans, and with good reason. Roy Hodgson himself stated in his most recent press conference:
“It would be very nice to add a few new faces, to introduce a bit of fresh blood, some new spirit. But it is a difficult market so I am very realistic and sanguine about it all. If something happens I would be delighted. If it doesn’t I won’t be bleating too much”
This type of language is not one that exudes confidence in his club’s transfer objectives. And given Palace’s history of missing at least one key position each window, fans have a right to be concerned. However, the targets for this season are arguably much lower than previous years. Given Palace’s much-improved injury record, if the club was only to bring in a goalscorer, that would almost certainly be enough for one last push for the end of the season. And since the club still has one loan option left, this may not even cost the club a penny.
When it’s all said and done it all depends on how you look at our current position. On the one hand, we currently have the second most points we’ve ever had since being promoted, with only 2015/16’s total of 31 being higher. We’re also nearly halfway towards the magic 40 points mark for survival. Most Palace fans would have snapped your hand off at the start of the season to be in that position. But on the other hand, we’re only one point better off than we were at this stage last season. And keep in mind, that was after making the worst start in top-flight history.
All we need is a consistent goalscorer that can make all of our dominant possession count. That alone could be enough to push us up three or four places between now and May. It will be down to Hodgson to push hard for the money from his chairman for the player he needs. But if we fail to make that addition or any in January, it will be difficult to defend the decisions of the club for much longer.
Midseason grade: C
Predicted finish: 13th
Main photo: Embed from Getty Images