With the conclusion of the Premier League a little less than a month ago, most fans are trying to find their football fix to get them through to the beginning of the 2022/23 campaign.
As the constant barrage of international matches and Three Lion’s losses does little to scratch that itch, I like many other fans have looked forward to the release of the Premier League fixture list.
Who will we have opening day? When do we play Brighton? Where are the tough patches?
All questions that were finally answered as the club announced the fixture list on Thursday. Speculations and predictions from the fixture list often proves futile – football by nature is an unpredictable sport, and while it may seem a safe bet that Palace should be getting three points at home to Bournemouth (for example), the strength of the Premier League this season throws a spanner in the works of safely and accurately predicting results. Despite this, us fans will never resist such speculation.
So let’s move to Palace’s fixtures:
The Storm Before The Calm
The first thing I noticed when looking at the fixtures was the difficulty of the opening nine – playing five of the ‘Top Six’ is never an ideal start to the season, especially when they include away matches against Manchester City and Liverpool, two of the world’s finest teams. Throw in an annoyingly strengthened Villa side at home, a Newcastle side with Top 4 form at the end of last season and everyone’s favourite but perhaps most feared away trip to the Amex at the end of September. Amitai Winehouse, of The Athletic, noted that Palace have the second toughest start to the season, behind only Bournemouth – not ideal.
The pessimistic among the Palace faithful may be getting flashbacks to our infamous seven-game losing streak under Frank de Boer and Roy Hodgson in the opening fixtures of the 2017/18 season. A betting man, seeing our opening fixtures for the coming season, may be tempted to chuck a couple quid on Palace to recreate this dismal part of their history. But Palace, of course, are on the up. Propelled by Patrick Vieira who will no doubt try and kick his way to a few good results from a turbulent opening to an already difficult season.
This, of course, will depend on incoming and outgoing transfers with West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone seemingly just a flick of a pen away from signing on a free transfer and RC Lens midfielder Cheick Doucouré heavily linked as our Cheikhou Kouyate replacement. Palace fans will also hope that Vieira develops and continues his more free-flowing attacking football to maximise the talent of our young forwards and continue squeezing as much sauce out of Wilfried Zaha as he passes his ‘peak’ years. Reports of Vieira opting for three at the back next season adds fuel to the fire that ‘Super Pat’ has only just begun his attacking revolution in South London.
However, after Chelsea at home at the start of October, the fixtures ease up a bit and Palace will look to maximise their points here and hopefully create a bit of consistency after the chaos of the opening two months, with home games against Leeds and Southampton being must win games if we are to have a memorable season.
Christmas In Croydon
The unprecedented and controversial winter Qatar World Cup may come at the right time for Palace. Very few of our players will take the six-hour-and-forty-five-minute flight to Doha; Kouyate will most likely represent Senegal while Andersen has cemented himself as a starting centre back for Denmark. The international future of Marc Guehi is still uncertain, but unless a surprise and drastic dip in form or an injury have anything to say, Marc deserves his seat on the plane, first class no less.
Many key players such as Zaha, whose Ivory Coast failed to qualify, and the likes of Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise, Odsonne Edouard and Jean-Philippe Mateta are unlikely to represent their countries this winter. While for the players personally, missing the chance to play at a World Cup is heart-breaking, from the club’s perspective this is only a benefit. When other clubs like Spurs and Manchester City will have almost their entire squad playing frequent matches from mid-November to mid-December, their players will return fatigued. This is where Palace and many other mid-table sides will benefit as we may be able to clinch results against lethargic Tottenham and Chelsea sides at the start of January and hopefully continue producing consistent performances.
Crunch Time: European Dream Or Relegation Nightmare?
The final few months of the season can make or break a team. While I can’t imagine many thinking Palace will be in a relegation battle, the strength of the league this season should not be underestimated. The promoted teams look as strong as ever, while Nottingham Forrest will no doubt try their best under Steve Cooper to remain in the league they’ve fought to get back in for 23 years. There are no teams this season where Palace would be outright favourites – a harsh but very real reality when the likes of Norwich and Watford are no longer in the league.
So while we have a much more favourable run from April to the end of the season, playing only one of the ‘Top 6’ out of the final ten games. That being said, playing lower-table teams naturally provides its own challenges as many teams will be fighting for survival. Our final three games are all against the promoted sides, all of which would no-doubt be the bookies’ favourites to go down and likely at least one of them would see the Palace fixture as a good chance for three points – Everton away at the end of last season comes screaming to mind here.
So what will happen? Where will Palace finish?
These answers will have to wait until the 28th of May after a tricky home game against Nottingham Forrest (unless Sky again decide to play ‘Pin-the-fixture-on-the-random-date’ and mess around with the fixtures, again). As I said before, predicting your team’s final position before a ball is kicked is pointless; Everton fans would never have predicted vying against Burnley to stay in the top flight, and many Arsenal fans, despite their disappointing end of the season, may have not predicted even achieving European football.
So we can speculate, predict, and discuss as much as we want, and while it is very fun to do so with fellow fans and rivals alike, all we can really do is just pray.