This summer marks a major overhaul of both players and the coaching staff at Premier League club Crystal Palace. Turning 74 before the new season starts, Roy Hodgson perhaps understandably didn’t feel up for building another new team 45 years into his managerial career, but such thorough change counts as a gamble.
The job that his successor has at Selhurst Park is far from easy. Croydon-born Hodgson’s life in football seemingly has some symmetry to it, courtesy of spells with the Eagles at the beginning and what may be the end of it after playing for their academy side in the mid-1960s and coaching the first team for almost four seasons from September 2017.
Palace are going in a different direction now, however, and their released list contains 22 senior, reserve, and academy players all now looking for new clubs. Only two first-team regulars whose deals were up, Jeff Schlupp and Christian Benteke, have signed new contracts in South London.
What the majority of those leaving Selhurst Park this summer have in common is they are usually 30 and above and playing in the defensive third of the pitch. Both Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and former Republic of Ireland youth international stopper Stephen Henderson depart.
In defence, Joel Ward, Patrick van Aanholt, Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann, Nathaniel Clyne and Gary Cahill are all on their way. Such upheaval in the Eagles rearguard leaves the new manager needing to recruit an entirely new back four effectively.
That probably won’t be Patrick Vieira, to many Palace supporters’ disappointment. Nor is Hodgson’s successor likely to be former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo, with reports circulating that talks between the parties broke down. The Eagles are perhaps suffering as a result of coaching vacancies at bigger clubs that can offer more resources like Everton and Tottenham Hotspur across London.
Fans may rightly ask the question why those running things behind the scenes at Palace allowed the team to grow old together. Releases en masse do represent the opportunity for a new start, but fresh faces in the dugout and on the field come with no guarantees of the stability that a worldly elder statesman of the game like Hodgson provided.
Bookmakers haven’t missed how potentially vulnerable this makes the Eagles either in how they price up the prospect of this team losing its Premier League perch. Betting on relegation is one of the popular outright markets attached to mainstream team sports like football. Palace’s odds, based on implied probability of the unthinkable happening, mean they are prominent with all of the best betting sites for the drop. These should also offer you the chance to cash out any wagers placed on relegation if it looks like they may stay up.
Whatever and however many signings the Eagles make between now and when the summer transfer window closes, if the new names don’t gel quickly, it is very easy to see the upcoming season being a struggle. Their cause isn’t helped by a serious injury to emerging talent Eberechi Eze, who now faces six months on the sidelines with surgery and rehab.
He may not play again in 2021. Whoever the new Palace boss is must be careful not to throw Eze back into action at the end of the calendar year when the festive fixture list is always congested. Then there is Wilfried Zaha, who has been linked with leaving Selhurst Park again.
An undoubted talent, the latest speculation about the Ivory Coast international forward’s future adds further worry for fans. The Eagles may have missed their best opportunity to sell Zaha for the most money, but he did knuckle down and get 11 goals this past season.
Add that to the 10 struck by Belgium frontman Benteke, and such firepower could prove the difference between Palace staying up and going down. Their relegation rivals look likely to include Norwich City and Watford, clubs that bounced back from the drop in 2020 and have made an immediate return to the Premier League via finishing first and second in the EFL Championship.
Play-off winners Brentford, another London team, and Burnley could also be in the mix at the wrong end of the table. The Eagles have to get key decisions – namely appointing a new manager and then backing that individual in the market with smart recruitment – right or a nine-year stay at the top table of English football could come to an end.
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