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Premier League Team Preview: Crystal Palace

All 20 Premier League clubs are being previewed ahead of the 2019/20 season. This instalment discusses Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace.

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  • 2018/19 Finish: 12th
  • Signings so far: Jordan Ayew (£2.5m), Stephen Henderson (Free)
  • Possible Gameweek 1 lineup (4-4-2): Guaita, Ward, Dann, Sakho, Van Aanholt, Townsend, Milivojevic, McArthur, Schlupp, Zaha, Benteke
  • First six fixtures: Everton (H), Sheffield Utd (A), Man Utd (A), Aston Villa (H), Tottenham (A), Wolves (H)

Rather than sticking to one formation throughout 2018/19, Roy Hodgson chopped and changed, using variants of 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 at various points of the season. The most popular was a 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders, usually Luka Milivojevic and James McArthur, and this was used on 14 occasions.

Palace also lined up in a 4-3-3 formation 11 times. The main difference being that star man Wilfried Zaha switched from being a second striker to an advanced left winger as the left sided midfielder moved inside, whilst Andros Townsend was given more licence to attack down the right. The regularity of the formation switches can be seen in the nature of Zaha’s position as exactly half of his 34 appearances came as a winger and the other half as a striker.

A full breakdown of Crystal Palace’s 2018/19 formations used each game can be seen on Transfermarkt.

As the 4-4-2 double 6 system was used most frequently and was used in Palace’s final two victories of the season, it will form the basis of the predicted lineup selected here.

In previous seasons, the goalkeeping position has carried a degree of uncertainty with the likes of Steve Mandanda and Vicente Guaita previously vying for a starting spot with Wayne Hennessey. However, that does not appear to be the case this time around. Guaita himself started 20 of the club’s final 22 matches, only missing out on visits to Liverpool and Burnley.

During those matches, the Eagles’ accumulated 34 of their 49 points, averaging 1.7 per game, which would have secured seventh place as a season-long average. Guaita also managed a save percentage of 75.3%, the fourth highest of regular starting goalkeepers (1000+ minutes) and a significant improvement on Hennessey’s 63.8%.

However, Crystal Palace’s defence will be weakened by the departure of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United after the England Under-21 international made the third most tackles (129) and second most interceptions (84) in the Premier League last season. It is likely that Joel Ward will take his place having deputised at right-back last season, although Martin Kelly is also comfortable all across the back four and has featured in all three positions during pre-season.

A groin injury has kept James Tomkins out of all six of Palace’s friendlies, whilst usual partner Mamadou Sakho has only just returned to the fold, playing 80 minutes across two matches. Either Scott Dann and Martin Kelly look set to line up alongside the fit again Frenchman for the visit of Everton, having been the first choice pair in the closing weeks of last season. Meanwhile, Patrick Van Aanholt will slot in at left-back, having appeared in all but two of the club’s league matches last season.

The balance provided on the other side by Wan-Bissaka or Ward as the more defensively-minded full-back helped to facilitate Van Aanholt’s natural inclination to attack. Only eight defenders created more chances than the Dutchman’s (35) and just Matt Doherty managed more than his 45 goal attempts.

Van Aanholt backs this up by ranking inside the top three defenders for goal attempts in 2017/18, despite making just 28 Premier League appearances that season. If Palace were to continue in a similar vein that saw Guaita keep 7 clean sheets in 20 appearances, Van Aanholt’s attacking threat makes him one of the standout £5.5m defenders in FPL. This is following a 140 point season, more than any other option at that price and only below Seamus Coleman’s points per match out of regular starters.

As discussed, the remaining six players will form either a midfield four and front two or midfield three and front three. In either case, Luka Milivojevic, followed by James McArthur carry the most defensive responsibilities in open play, with Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha given licence to roam either side of probable main striker Christian Benteke. The Belgian was talked up by Hodgson in the closing weeks of last season and started three consecutive matches before missing the win over Cardiff with injury.

With already impressive direct goal involvement rates, Zaha and Milivojevic may be able to benefit further following the introduction of VAR. Zaha won a total of six penalties in 2018/19 and was also left perplexed on a number of occasions that referees did not award one after he went under a challenge. It is in individual contexts like these that the rate of penalties may increase.

However, whether he remains at the club is in doubt and him leaving would be a bitter blow to Palace as well as Milivojevic’s supreme penalty record and FPL credentials. But if Zaha were to leave, that may open up space for another flair player in the form of Max Meyer.

The remaining spot is then filled by another midfield player, tucked in slightly from the left as an inverted winger or left-sided central midfielder, leaving space for Patrick Van Aanholt to make overlapping runs. This will be one of Jeffrey Schlupp, Max Meyer or Cheikhou Kouyate.

All three played between 1400 and 1900 minutes in 2018/19 and will likely be used in rotation again, depending upon Hodgson’s tactical preferences as mentioned at the start. It is worth noting that Kouyate has not yet featured in pre-season following AFCON involvement with Senegal and is therefore unlike to be ready to start the visit of Everton.

To summarise, Guaita’s impressive save percentage Crystal Palace to tighten up defensively as they conceded fewer goals and kept more clean sheets in his 20 appearances compared to Hennessey’s 18. This is hugely beneficial from an FPL perspective for the likes of Van Aanholt, to complement his significant attacking threat. It will be he, Guaita or likely VAR beneficiaries Milivojevic and Zaha that provide the best Palace options in 2019/20, assuming the Ivorian international remains at the club.

Read more on Crystal Palace: Luka Milivojevic Player Analysis
Stats from Fantasy Football Scout, Premier League and Transfermarkt

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