Which Crystal Palace will we see this season? That’s the £50 million question, which is exactly how much Philadelphia 76ers/New Jersey Devils owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer dished out to buy into Steve Parish’s ownership team. While most of that cash is dedicated to renovating Selhurst Park, the influx of capital has already shown up this offseason with some shrewd signings and even bigger rumors churning away in the transfer mill. But back to the question: Will we see the fifth place on New Year’s Crystal Palace or the 15th-place Crystal Palace that missed relegation by five points? Despite a torrid finish, manager Alan Pardew’s mission to give back to his former side and make them a perennial top-half-of-the-table club continues with cautious optimism after an appearance in the FA Cup final followed by a busy summer in the transfer market that seems far from over. It remains to be seen whether the Eagles can put together a consistent full season, but there is no doubt this year’s squad will be the most talented team the club has ever seen.
Last Season in Brief
To call last season a roller-coaster ride, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or a tale of two halves would be to completely underestimate the turn Crystal Palace’s season took at the start of the New Year. On New Year’s Day, the Eagles sat in fifth place ahead of Manchester United, Liverpool, West Ham and, of course, Chelsea with 31 points from 19 games. I don’t know what was in their New Year’s punch bowl, but Palace started 2016 by losing its first five Premier League matches during a stretch where it couldn’t win a single match in 14 consecutive league fixtures. Fourteen, that is not a typo. The Eagles’ first Premier League win of the New Year came in April 9 against soon-to-be-relegated Norwich City. During that spell, they managed only 11 goals to drop them from a Europa League spot to on the verge of relegation. You know things are not going too well when your joint-goalscoring leader in the league is a center-back (Scott Dann, 5). The schedule clearly took a turn for the worse after the New Year, but they only won two Premier League matches in 2016 after winning nine in the first half. The only thing that kept the morale up was a fortuitous run (Southampton, Stoke City, Spurs, Reading, Watford) to the FA Cup final, where they lost to Manchester United in devastating fashion by an extra-time goal in the 110th.
The Summer So Far
This is where Crystal Palace fans can actually afford to get carried away. Palace has been one of the busiest, if not the busiest, Premier League team this summer and yet has only £13 million in net spending. And that £13 million looks to be extremely well spent on Newcastle and former Spurs standout Andros Townsend, who narrowly missed out on a trip to France for the Euros. Meanwhile, Pardew and co. added France No. 2 goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who has held down a starting spot at Ligue 1 giants Marseille for nearly a decade. The 31-year-old arrived on a free transfer and looks like a shoe-in to become the club’s No. 1 after a shaky season with Wayne Hennessey in goal. Most recently, the Eagles made their best signing of the summer in West Ham defender James Tomkins for £10 million. How they got a defender of his quality (fourth in the league in tackles won as a platoon starter) in his prime like Tomkins still evades me, but it looks to be excellent business pairing him with Dann.
All the while, Palace kept itself busy with some much-needed summer cleaning, letting defunct (and expensive) strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Marouane Chamakh leave alongside hardly-used defenders Brede Hangeland and Adrian Mariappa at the end of their respective contracts. But the club managed to keep its depth at key positions by signing defender Damien Delaney and club icon Julian Speroni to one-year deals. Biggest of all, the club sold its leading scorer in all competitions in Dwight Gayle to Newcastle in a £10 million move.
Remaining Summer Business
There aren’t too many more spots the club needs to fill, but there is one glaring hole: striker. After the departures of Gayle, Adebayor and Chamakh, that leaves only Connor Wickham and Frazier Campbell as true center forwards (and even putting Wickham there is debatable). But the massive rumor surrounding the club is a £30-plus million move for Liverpool striker Christian Benteke. If Crystal Palace could somehow pull off such a coup, the club would instantly become a dark horse to challenge for a European spot this season despite all of the competition. Benteke’s aerial presence would thrive in Pardew’s 4-2-3-1 that is heavy on crosses from the wing and Palace could sure use a physical center-forward that can hold up the ball and spring a counter attack.
While Palace could potentially do with another full-back to provide depth and competition for Pape Souare, it is more important the club trim some fat first. Players like Jordon Mutch, Lee Chung-yong and Wayne Hennessey could fetch some cash in the transfer market while goalkeeper Alex McCarthy would benefit from a loan. And rumor has it that the club is willing to sell Yannick Bolasie if the sale nets £28 million.
Salary Cap Superstars
- Andros Townsend– Obviously if the club somehow does sign Benteke, his name would be at the top of the list. But Townsend is an electrifying attacker who I’m highlighting to have a breakout season. The winger recorded four goals and two assists in the second half of the season for Newcastle and will be the main beneficiary of Pardew’s wing-based system.
- Joel Ward – Most people are going to look to Scott Dann to repeat his goal-scoring feats of 2015/16, but Ward gives you a cheaper option who still scored three goals in all competitions last season. But as a defender, we should look to consistency (only four yellow cards in 30 matches) and a good defense, which I expect Palace to have with upgrades at key positions.
- Yohan Cabaye – Cabaye doesn’t really appear to be that great of an option for salary-cap leagues at first sight, but he is still the club’s free-kick and penalty taker, which accounted for four of his five goals last season to be the club’s joint leader in EPL goals.
- Scott Dann – Expect Dann to go early in drafts, which is a good thing for you. You don’t need him. Last year, he would’ve been a steal, but you can’t expect a central defender to repeat a career-high in goals. Instead, opt for Tomkins or Ward in your draft, both of whom have a goalscoring touch of their own.
- Yannick Bolasie/Wilfried Zaha/Jason Puncheon – It will be interesting to see what happens to the starting lineup now that Pardew has so many quality options. Townsend’s arrival means one of these players definitely won’t start and if they add a starting forward then probably two. It’s best to lay off these guys unless they are around in the late rounds.
- Yohan Cabaye – Cabaye is a much better option for draft leagues than for salary caps. He’s an occasional goalscorer, a very good passer (key passes, especially) and has solid defensive stats playing in front of the backline with James McArthur. But his name recognition could see him go earlier than he should.