After the strange end to last season (in July!), and for Palace the particularly depressing run of results, I am approaching the start of the new season with real mixed feelings.
The end of the season threw a magnifying glass over all of the deficiencies which Roy’s tactics and the players’ hard work had covered up previously. A thin, ageing squad with nothing to play for suffered with multiple injuries, defensive sloppiness and the usual inability to score goals. Even the usually infallible Vincente Guaita made a couple of errors during this spell. Four points gained from an available twenty seven tells its own story. Combined with the unusually short close season, the turnaround time until the upcoming season has not really provided a clear break from the disastrous end of last season.
The mood of many supporters has also not been helped by the poor end of the season. For a number of our fan base Roy Hodgson has never been the most exciting choice of a manager and despite, in my opinion, the impressive job he has done over the past three seasons, the recent poor run of results was confirmation of all their fears. Boring, overly defensive football with very little to show for it has made a lot of Palace supporters restless, to say the least.
The obvious solution to Palace’s end of season woes is to spend some money and bring in some younger players and a wider range of attacking players. The difficulty is that under Roy Hodgson those are the two things that Palace have either not done or where they have done it (Max Meyer, Alexander Sorloth, Victor Camarasa) the players have not worked out for one reason or another. The omens do not look good from this perspective. The final piece of the potentially miserable jigsaw is the next instalment of the Wilf Zaha soap opera which may finally result in him getting his desired move away.
Despite the gloom, I have seen some very promising developments over the past few weeks which give me some hope. First of all the signings of Nathan Ferguson and Eberechi Eze have been exactly the type of signings that we have crying out for. Young, talented players who fill gaps that badly need filling. With further rumours of more signings to come such as Conor Gallagher, Ryan Fraser, and Jean-Philippe Mateta, there is a clear intention on the part of Palace’s owners to address the deficiencies which we all saw last season.
Interestingly Palace seem to have shifted their recruitment tactics to a more balanced approach between recruiting younger players outside the UK and those playing in the UK. It may just be coincidence but the recent signings of Eze and Ferguson are both young talented players who have succeeded in the Championship. Palace have not signed a young Championship player of any note since Dwight Gayle in 2013 and now we have signed two in a month! From the rumour mill it sounds like we may still be interested in some young players not based in the UK but perhaps the recruitment strategy is evolving to sign a mix of players from both the UK and abroad.
The other piece of the jigsaw is Roy Hodgson and whether he can “change” his tactics to fit a set of younger, less experienced players with a more attacking style of play. I am less worried about this side of things. Although Roy’s England career was overshadowed by the disastrous end of the 2016 Euros, throughout his time in charge Hodgson brought through younger players, many of whom have developed into mainstays of Gareth Southgate’s attack minded side. This was Roy’s positive England legacy.
In any event, when given the right players Hodgson has got Palace paying some attractive attacking football. The end of the 2017-18 season saw Palace playing some of the most exciting football I have ever seen from the Eagles. The combination of Zaha, Loftus-Cheek and PVA was breathtaking and the goals flowed. The following season ended on a similar note with the Michy Batshuayi loan giving Hodgson more attacking options once again.
Make no mistake, this coming season possibly presents the biggest challenge facing Palace since they were promoted. There is clearly a transitional season coming with a move to younger, less experienced players creating its own risks and the likely (but not certain) departure of arguably our best ever player meaning there will be a lot change for the management team to cope with.
Hodgson and Palace have proved plenty of doubters wrong over the years and I have faith that they will do it again!