Recruitment Plan – Crystal Palace FC – Summer 2021

The Situation at Palace

It feels like the dawn of a new era at Crystal Palace. With it, a rather unique situation has presented itself at Selhurst Park… the long tenure of Roy Hodgson has come to an end, along with the contracts of 12 players. Whilst an abundance of players leaving at the end of their contracts is a regular occurrence further down the football pyramid, it is not usually something that top division Clubs have to endure. Off the back of this uncerntainty, there is immediate concern surrounding the Club, as the presence of Roy Hodgson all but guaranteed top-flight security. However, I see this as a great chance to rebuild and set the foundations to push on… oh how I would love to be involved with the recruitment, so here is my Recruitment Plan..

Whilst the player search is still ongoing, the manager search has at last reached its conclusion, albeit after many twists and turns. It was not Nuno or Lucien Favre in the end, and I must admit I am gutted that the latter will not be venturing to England, but it is Arsenal legend, Patrick Vieira.

Vieira’s Style of Play

Vieira was lauded for an attractive style of play at New York City FC. Despite losing in the Play-Offs twice, no team won more regular season matches than NYCFC during Vieira’s tenure. He finished 5th & 7th in his 2 full seasons at Nice before being sacked in December of season 3.

Vieira’s Nice were criticised for a lack of identity. He continually changed formation, starting line-ups, and lacked consistency. However, he did create the youngest squad in Ligue 1 (24), consisting of exceptionally talented youngsters such as Kephram Thuram, Jordan Lotomba and Stanley N’Soki. He also got the best from underachieving young players; Kasper Dolberg and Amine Gouiri. Vieira will need to call on this experience to lead this Palace rebuild.

Although Vieira did not have a preferred formation or starting 11, he did have a preferred style – dominating possession. Nice played out from the back and rarely played long (19th in Ligue 1 in terms of long balls during 19/20 season). The Centre Backs and Centre Midfielders were key to retaining the ball, making the most passes in the team. Nice, ranked 4th in Ligue 1 in 19/20 in terms of fewest ball losses, highlighting their patience in possession.

Noticeably Nice had most of their possession in the middle vertical channels of the pitch, through the CB’s, CM’s, CF, and Inverted Wingers. The Full Backs stayed wide to create space centrally and were used in possession to stretch a compact defence or to relieve pressure. Nice’s attacking patterns involved central overloads and playing through the lines, utilising sharp passing combinations, and driving runs from the inverted wingers Gouiri, Claude-Maurice and central midfielder Thuram.

Defensively Vieira had a good record in his first season, but poor in his second, ranking 19th for xGA, 15th for goals conceded and 16th for shots against. Clearly Nice overperformed on xG and xGA, suggesting that their performances did not warrant a 7th placed finish, and that it was only a matter of time before the bad results came.

Nice defended narrowly in a mid to low block, shuffling across to defend their flanks. Ranking 16th in interceptions and 15th for PPDA, they preferred to sit in their shape and let teams break them down.

The Squad

12 first team players have been released this summer by Crystal Palace, a lot of appearances and years’ experience have been lost:

Fig 1. Released players

Leaving the squad looking like this:

  • Green – Current players in that position
  • Yellow – Current players who can do a job in that position
  • Red – Position must be filled
Figure 2. Current squad

Evaluation of the squad:

Goalkeepers: 1st and 2nd choice keepers are set in stone. Guaita has been impressive at the Club and Butland is a very capable number 2. Therefore, it is only a 3rd choice keeper required.

Right Backs: Nathan Ferguson has had a nightmare time with injuries since his move from West Brom and is likely to be out for some time this season and with Martin Kelly the only other Right Back option, this area needs strengthening. Based on Vieira’s use of Full Backs at Nice, defensive ability is the priority, they will also need to be strong 1v1 defenders and be able to support an attack but will not need to be a key part of Palace’s attacking threat.

Centre Backs: Veteran Tomkins and converted Centre Back Kouyate are the only recognised CBs in the squad, with Kelly as an option. I would therefore suggest that 2 more are required and probably another versatile option. Vieira demands that his CBs are comfortable on the ball, this therefore will have to be priority. Pace and power are always useful in the Premier League. Experience at the back will be key, so I would look for 1 experienced and 1 promising signing.

Left Backs: Tyrick Mitchell has impressed since his academy graduation and looks set to start the season as the first choice Left Back. Therefore, a signing is needed to compete with Mitchell and must be happy to start the season as second choice. Profile the same as Right Back.

Central Midfielders: Milivojevic, Riedewald and McArthur all bring experience, solidity, and comfortability in possession, however with the aging legs of Milivojevic and McArthur, I think it is crucial that a younger pair of legs is brought into the squad. The CMs in Vieira’s Nice team were stable and good on the ball, they were also able to arrive on the edge of the box and strike at goal. Priority will be to offer stability, but they must also be able to progress the ball through passing and ball carrying.

Attacking Midfielders: Zaha is a shoo-in for the starting 11 as would Eze, but a long-term injury will rule him out next season. Alongside Zaha, Palace have Ayew and Schlupp. Ayew was impressive last season, but Schlupp is no more than a squad player. As a result of the above and the importance of these roles to the Vieira system, I think Palace ideally need 3 more faces.A like for like Eze replacement, a similar style to Eze that can operate on the right and then another squad option with direct, ball carrying ability.

Strikers: With Benteke and Mateta at the Club, Palace have themselves two tall and powerful strikers and therefore seek much needed variety to the ranks. Dolberg was successful at Nice, he was able to link up with the Inverted Wingers well, in addition to good link-up play, I think the new addition should offer pace and the ability to get in behind, something lacking currently in the Striking role.

I would suggest that there are 10 places to fill in the squad (red).

However, some of the gaps in the squad can be filled simply by renewing contracts. There are multiple versatile squad players that could provide cover for multiple positions:

Fig 3. Re-signing of contracted players

This would leave the squad looking like this:

Fig 4. Updated squad after contract renewals

Re-signing players, would mean that only 6 signings need to be made, improving the quality of the incomings.

The 8 players being released would free up a ‘rumoured’ £400,000+ p/w on the wage bill. A huge saving and provides a much-needed contribution towards the new signings.

Suggested Signings:

Fig 5. Final squad with signings

*Only 2 Premier League Loan Signings are allowed. Therefore only 2 of the 3 suggested below would be able to be signed on loan, the other would have to be a permanent deal. I believe that all 3 would be available at the right price, particularly Maitland-Niles.

Left Back:

Brandon Williams, Manchester United (Loan)*

Overview – Looked like he was going to break into the first team at United, making regular appearances in the 19/20 season, but the arrival of Alex Telles has somewhat curtailed his progress. Will be seeking regular game time this season and should be available on loan.

Strengths – A right-footed left back, so would provide cover on both sides of the defence. Tenacious and energetic player; you certainly cannot fault his commitment. Great 1v1 defender. The type of player needed to help survive relegation.

Weaknesses – Looks to play inverted in possession due to being right footed, which limits his attacking effectiveness. Relative inexperience playing in a lower table team.

Alternatives: Vitaliy Mykolenko, Dynamo Kyiv. Romain Perraud, Brest. Anthony Caci, Strasbourg.

Centre Back:

Marc Guehi, Chelsea (Loan)*

Overview – The standout defender in the Championship in 2020/21 after his impressive loan spell with Swansea, an England U-21 International and another cab off the rank at the Chelsea Academy. He will have no shortage of Premier League suitors this season and it seems like a sensible move for both the player and Chelsea. It would be a real coup for Palace and extending Cahill’s contract may be an influencing factor in convincing Guehi to move to Selhurst Park, with both knowing each other from the formers time at Stamford Bridge. The experience and youth combination would be a great move for Vieira.

Strengths – Assertive defender. He likes to make interceptions, stepping in front of the attackers but he also has the pace to track strikers and make recovery challenges. His assertiveness corresponds to his play in possession, he regularly drives the ball forward into space and is capable of making a range of penetrative and long passes with both feet.

Weaknesses – His eagerness and exuberance can sometimes get him in trouble. Inconsistent aerially. Lacks experience in a relegation battle.

Alternatives: Tosin Adarabioyo, Fulham. Nayef Aguerd, Rennes. Igor Diveev, CSKA Moscow.

Centre Midfielder:

Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Arsenal (Loan)*

Overview – Another young player who has found versatility to be more of a curse than a blessing. A Central Midfielder by trade, he established himself at Arsenal playing as a Full Back/Wing Back, his impressive form even earned him England honours. He then found himself out on loan at West Brom last season where he failed to really catch the eye in midfield, but it was a poor West Brom side. He will be looking to get more football again this season. Palace would represent a good move for him and given his motivation to establish himself in the Premier League.

Strengths – Extremely versatile, can cover at Full Back. Great ball carrying ability. Energetic, covers a lot of ground. Tidy in possession. A good all-round player, offering qualities in both attacking and defensive areas. Played in a relegation battling team last season.

Weaknesses – Yet to really knuckle down a role and position. So far, a jack of all trades, master of none. Inconsistency has been a theme with him.

Alternatives: Glenn Kamara, Rangers. Tonny Vilhena, Krasnodar. Mykola Shaparenko, Dynamo Kyiv.

Attacking Midfielders:

Luka Ivanusec, Dinamo Zagreb (Value: £12.15m via transfermarkt.co.uk)

Overview: My wildcard selection. My choice for Eze replacement. Eze played predominately on the left, either Left Wing or left of a 3 in Central Midfield, these are the areas that Ivanusec thrives in. He really stood out for Croatia during the Under-21 European Championships this Summer and earned a place in the Senior squad for the Euros. He is ready for the next step in his career and Palace represents a great next step.

Strengths – Can pick the ball up deep, in-between the lines or on the half-turn and carry the ball forward. Accomplished at playing key passes into the final third. Links well with a Striker who plays back to goal (Benteke). High completion of final third passes, an impressive 89%, 16% higher than Eze’s. Versatile. Quick. Does not shirk defensive work. Technically good. Low centre of gravity.

Weaknesses – Often holds the ball for too long. Inconsistent end-product, makes wrong decisions. Unclear whether he will make the step up.

Alternatives: Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Flamengo. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea. Hamed Traore, Sassuolo.

Michael Olise, Reading (Value: £13.5m – Rumoured release clause of £8m) – A household name to most football fans after his impressive season for Reading where he was arguably one of the players of the season in the Championship. He is undoubtedly ready for the step up to the Premier League, much like Eze last season. A similar style player to Eze again but left-footed and operates largely on the right, drifting into central areas. Ayew and Townsend (if re-signed) offer solid options on the right-hand side for Palace, but Olise has the potential to take it to the next level. 7 goals and 13 assists last season, he will add goals and creativity and is the type of player that I think would link up well with Wilfried Zaha, he is definitely on his level technically. A must sign for Palace, he is that good.

Strengths – Combines flair with great technique and composure. His head is on a pivot as he constantly scans the environment around him. Drops in-between lines and into half spaces to pick up the ball. His touch and close control are immaculate and with his bag of tricks and acceleration, he skips past opposition with ease. Impressively he always has his head up while moving with the ball, so he can keep an eye on available passes.

Weaknesses – Often looks to do a little too much before releasing the ball. Sometimes takes unnecessary risks in danger areas.

Alternatives: Matheus Pereira, West Brom. Lovro Majer, Dinamo Zagreb. Harvey Elliott (Loan), Liverpool.

Striker:

Adam Armstrong, Blackburn Rovers (Value: £16.2million)

Overview – 49 goals in the Championship over the last 3 seasons, including 28 in 40 apps last season. Spells at Coventry, Bolton, Barnsley & Blackburn after leaving Newcastle, yet he is still only 24. If anyone has earned their stripes in the Football League and deserves a crack at the Premier League, it is Armstrong.

Strengths – Armstrong is rapid. Can play on the last line of defence or as a second striker, he makes impressive runs in behind but is also able to drop deep and link up play. Energetic, mobile, and all-action and usually brings goals, something that Palace have been lacking over recent seasons. He could play up front on his own, looking to stretch opposition defences and provide space for Olise, Ivanusec, Zaha to operate in, but he could also play off Benteke. Pace, energy, goals, versatility, would be a great addition to the squad.

Weaknesses – Often caught offside. Not proven at Premier League level.

Alternatives: Stevan Jovetic, Free Agent. Ihlas Bebou, Hoffenheim. Adam Hložek, Sparta Prague.

Conclusion:

Whilst this would represent a brilliant window for Palace, I am aware that money is likely to be tight. Having said that, they would have known that players contracts were coming to an end and the squad would be in need of a revamp, so hopefully there is sufficient money in the bank.

Combining Vieira’s style, existing players at Palace and my suggested recruitment targets, I think there’s room for a variety of formations (see below). Key features will be an ability to build from the back, solid back line, solid CMs who are also comfortable in possession, flexibility, and creativity for the front 3 or 4 players. Full Backs will stay wide and attempt to stretch play, wingers will play inverted and link with striker.  

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