There’s every reason to believe Crystal Palace will struggle this season. Behind a 12-goal season from Serbian captain and midfielder Luka Milivojevic, Palace finished the 2018-19 season in 12th — solidly mid-table but lower than their fans were hoping for. Heading into this season Roy Hodgson had some work to do to improve the side.
But have they? Palace sold arguably their best player, fullback Aaron Wan-Bissaka, to Manchester United for £50m, but barely invested beyond that, bringing in players such as Gary Cahill on a free transfer and Victor Camarasa from Real Betis on loan. In fact, Palace spent only £6.8m, with their largest outlays being nearly £3m for Everton’s James McCarthy (reuniting him with his Wigan/Hamilton teammate James McArthur in a move that will in no way confuse commentators this season), and £2.5m for Jordan Ayew from Swansea City. Ayew in particular is an extremely limited player and one who is unlikely to be the kind of signing that’s going to wow Palace supporters (though to be fair he’s started the season well, scoring two of Palace’s three goals thus far by virtue of outperforming xG).
Jordan Ayew kinda reminds of classic shit 80s baseball players, like Enos Cabell, who were bad at almost all the important things but hit for a high average and kept getting jobs. Jordan Ayew runs around a lot so he keeps getting minutes despite being bad at the important stuff— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) August 24, 2019
Underneath all of this was the simmering discontent from former Spurs target Wilfried Zaha. Palace’s unquestioned star and best player, he went as far as to lodge a transfer request that was ultimately denied when nobody was willing to meet the club’s transfer valuation. He has since seemingly buried the hatchet at least for now, but Hodgson knows he has a player who would like to move on to bigger and better things.
Despite seven points from their opening four matches, a string that includes a 2-1 away win at Manchester United, this is a Palace team that has some real deficiencies. Despite the presence of Zaha and Milivojevic, Palace are ahead of only Newcastle in xG, and while the addition of Cahill will probably help their defense, this is an aging squad that Hodgson probably can’t will to too many significant victories. They’ve played well thus far, but just a few matches into the season people are already wondering when the wheels will fall off.
Whether that happens or not will likely come down to Zaha. Now 27, he’s no longer a young promising player, he’s the guy who needs to carry this Palace team. Based on current evidence (6 shots, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0.43 xG in 295 minutes) things have been slow to get going. However, Tottenham in particular are aware of his ability to torment defenders on the break, and will also need to be aware of Milivojevic, the unexpectedly hot finishing Ayew, and (I guess) Christian Benteke, who has managed only two shots all season. The question is whether Spurs get the Palace that beat Manchester United, or the Palace that fell on penalties to Colchester in the Carabao Cup.
How will Tottenham line up against Crystal Palace?
The international break was not kind to Tottenham. While nearly all of Spurs’ players on international duty with their countries came back unscathed (if tired), new signing Giovani Lo Celso was not so lucky, injuring his groin in a meaningless friendly between Argentina and Chile and missing the next six weeks, at minimum. But there’s good news too! Spurs announced this morning that four players are back in contention to be selected against Palace — Tanguy Ndombele, Kyle Walker-Peters, Eric Dier, and Ryan Sessegnon. Juan Foyth isn’t ready, and Davinson Sanchez is a doubt with a foot injury (probably sustained when he shoulder-barged Neymar into the advertising boards).
The major questions all still remain for the Crystal Palace match — who plays at right back, what does the midfield look like, who’s in the attacking band behind Kane. The new wrinkle is that Spurs now have the Champions League to think about, with the club traveling to Greece four days after Palace to play Olympiacos. That might prompt Pochettino to do some minor rotation, especially at the fullback positions, but considering the narrative of the season is already one of underachievement, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Poch to try and go for a big win at home first.
The injury to Sanchez implies the return of Janby Alderweirtonghen in the back line. In the midfield, I imagine Ndombele will also return to the lineup, and with Spurs likely to have most of the ball in this match Poch could opt for the possession-recycling abilities of Winks over Sissoko, who could be more useful against European competition. I think Rose keeps his position on Saturday to help negate the threat of Wilfried Zaha, but suspect Walker-Peters is saved for Greece, with Serge Aurier coming in his place.
Pochettino has always been loathe to use Son Heung-Min immediately after an international break — the travel back from Asia usually means that he needs a few extra days of rest to be ready. So I predict a DELK attacking band, with Lucas coming in as his replacement alongside Christian Eriksen and Dele.
That’s my predicted lineup for Tottenham Hotspur against Crystal Palace. What’s yours?