From Mid-Table to Europa League – Let’s Fix Crystal Palace

I thought it would be fun to ‘fix’ a club. While there might not be anything wrong in particular, I want to try and push a club to the next stage, and decided to choose Crystal Palace. They have a very interesting way of playing, and gets the best out of the players there, while also keeping them solid defensively and allowing them to create chances. They are quite simple, but effective.

So what are Palace good at? Well first it’s chance creation. The Eagles are 6th in shots per game, ahead of the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal. They are a side that are very good at quickly transitioning the ball, with Zaha, Wan-Bissaka, Van Aanolt and Townsend all being good dribblers. They are 3rd in the league for dribbles per game, with only Man City and Chelsea ahead of them. Finally, their ability at winning the ball back has to be praised. Palace are a side that focus on quickly regaining the ball, and moving the ball up the pitch. It’s why their dribble numbers are so high. Milivojevic and Wan-Bissaka put in a lot of defensive work, and even players like Zaha and Ayew are putting in a tackle per match. It’s why I’ve chose Palace, because they have an effective style, and makes them a threat. They have the 7th best away form in the league, because their style suits that underdog approach.

Now that we know what is good, let’s look at the more negative side. The first is their home record. I mentioned how well Palace have done away, but their results at Selhurst Park have not being nearly as impressive. They home record ranks 18th in the league, with the Eagles only winning 4 games at home. To describe them as unfortunate is an understatement. xPTS would rank them at 7th in the league, with Palace being very unfortunate to have such a poor record. Their shots and dribble numbers are much better at home than on the road, which highlights the next problem. I mentioned how good they are when it comes to transition and creating chances, but they have a finishing problem. While Palace rank high when it comes to taking shots, their shots on target are not as impressive. They rank 15th in shots on target per game, eight places below where they rank with regular shots. It highlights their biggest problem when it comes to attacking, lacking a good striker. While Hodgson playing Townsend and Zaha as a striking pair did work, they just lack a vocal point, and someone who has a better ability at finding space and taking those chances. Batshuayi has added that to an extent, but I think they need something else, and his move seems more of a boost for the Belgian’s career than for Crystal Palace. The midfield could also use a boost. Kouyate is a below average player at best, and Max Meyer has been horrible, continuing his reputation of being a player many think is good, but just doesn’t offer enough to justify dealing with his baggage, meaning his wages. Meyer left Schalke because they refused to accept his wage demands, which makes sense considering he was bad last season.

Now that we’ve went through the good and the bad, let’s talk about what needs to change. The manager is one that might make a lot of sense, but as mentioned on my manager rankings, I like Hodgson a lot and is still getting the best out of this side, but if the owners do want to upgrade for justfied long term issues (maybe Pablo Machin is getable) but for now we’ll stick with him.

Let’s look at the players. Their goalkeeper options are fine for now. Both Hennessey and Guaita have been fine enough to keep around, with Hennessey finally being replaced. Defence is where it becomes a bit more of a priority. We’ll look at players to bring in later, but for now we’ll focus on who stays and goes. Starting with the centre back options, I think Tompkins and Sakho will be fine for now, but it will be area that I will be looking at later for additions. While both players are have formed a solid partnership, their back ups should be looking at moving on. Scott Dann used to be a regular in the side, but has only started 3 games. He’s also 32 and it might be time for him to leave. The team needs to ensure that they’re is solid competition in all areas. Martin Kelly was one I was thinking of letting go, but then we’d only be left with two centre halves. The full backs are an interesting topic. They arguably have one of the best pairs of full backs in the league, with Wan-Bissaka and Van Aanholt being great at transitioning the ball, winning it back and giving the side a lot of width. The former is going to be on many big club’s radar, but it would be vital to keep hold of him for at least another season. However if United do offer something crazy like £50m, I couldn’t blame Palace for accepting it. We aren’t going to be looking at another full back, since in this perfect world, Wan-Bissaka stays.

Moving on to the midfield, Max Meyer is the first to go. Since he has arrived on a free, you can get some money for the player, because he isn’t worth keeping around. Schlupp and Townsend both stay, with the pair having their best seasons in recent memory. They are versitile and can help fill a number of positions. McArthur, Milivojevic and Kouyate all stay. Regarding the forward options, all are going to be sold besides Zaha. Benteke, Sorloth, Ayew and Wickham are all going to be sold. All have failed to add goals on a consistent basis and also haven’t shown enough to justify even keeping in the first place. It’s an area that definitely needs improving.

Palace have been making conistently bad business in recent windows. Many just seem to have arrived based on the falsely believed ‘premier league proven.’ Palace are another side to show that just because you have players who have experience in the league, doesn’t make it a guaranteed success. I would never recommend any Premier League side sign a player from the same league, unless they’re a relegated side. There’s always an expense based on selling to a Premier League side, as well as many clubs refusing to give to their rivals. Ayew, Kouyate, Benteke, Townsend and Schlupp are average players at best, and the club could have found better options abroad, but decided to play it incredibly safe. Let’s get to the most interesting part, and talk about which players will be brought in, if I had such control.

Let’s begin with an additional centre back. With Sakho, Tompkins and Kelly all over 28, it means a younger addition makes the most sense. With the solid partnership that Sakho and Tompkins forming a decent partnership, it means there’s a chance to find some value in the market here. The first option that should be considered is a player from the tier below. After seeing plenty of players make the step up from the Championship, it’s proof that there is definitely value to be found. Bournemouth are a great example of this, with Brooks, Mephan and Lewis Cook all showing plenty of promise since making the step up. Palace could try a similar approach, since the quality in the Championship is starting to increase by the season. the first suggestion is 24 year old Bristol defender Adam Webster. Ever since their impressive run to the League Cup semi final last season, I’ve always kept an interest in seeing how they’re doing, and after their drop off during the second half of the season, they have definitely shown improvement. They currently sit in 5th, with the 3rd best defensive record in the league. Adam Webster has been very good in the heart of that Bristol defence, turning them into a side finally ready for a chance at promotion. This isn’t exactly a new revelation either. Webster should a lot of promise at Ipswich, with his high interception numbers and massive aerial duels showing him to be a player to keep an eye on, but he just wasn’t playing enough games at his former club, with Webster starting only 25 games in the 2017/18 season, thanks to another ankle injury. Bristol took that risk on him and to say it’s paid off is an understatement. He’s started 35 games this season and has become a vital player for them. Earning the nickname ‘Webdini’ (after Italian legend Maldini), he has come up with important moments, including a winner against Middlesborough. Webster has been putting in the numbers to back up this praise, making 2.1 interceptions per game, the 8th highest in the league. He is also a monster in the air, winning 6.3 aerial duels per match, again the 8th highest. He has been simply fantastic, and would be perfect for a side who are needing a younger defender. Defenders are harder to buy in the current market, so a bargain like this is exactly what the team needs.

Midfield is the next position that needs addressing. While Milivojevic has been great and has been winning points thanks to his penalty prowess, he need a better partner beside him. While he isn’t my first choice, I would still recommend Crystal Palace pick up Philip Billing. Huddersfield might go down as one of the worst sides in the history of the league, but Billing has been a stand out. He’s only 22, and has put in massive defensive numbers, with the Danish midfielder putting 4.7 tackles and interceptions and winning 3.3 aerial duels a game. He is still young, and since Huddersfield are now relegated, it makes picking him up so much easier. I think Palace could pick him up for less than £15m, which would be reasonable enough for a player who has performed well in the Premier League.

My real recommendation would be Jordan Veretout. While Zambo Anguissa and Joan Jordan were all looked at, I thought going for a player who is in his prime would be a great idea. It would be the Frenchman’s second time in the league, with the Veretout previously playing for Aston Villa, a Villa side that were really bad, and Veretout wasn’t good in the slightest. However he was much younger then, and after 3 successful seasons, 2 for Fiorentina, he has turned into a very good player. Veretout deserves another chance in England, and he would add a lot of Palace. He is a great creator, and can help in quickly moving the ball further up the pitch. His key passes are at a career high with 2.4, which would be higher than anyone else in the Palace squad. It’s one of my biggest issues with how Palace build up. They have this over reliance on attacking through the wide areas. They have been playing Zaha and Townsend have been playing as a partnership for most of the season, and it means they mostly lack any unpredictability sometimes. Having a midfielder who is actually able to create means they don’t have to keep relying on Zaha for everything. It’s their biggest flaw. While he is great at transition, he is awful in the final third. I’ll get more into fixing this problem soon, but having another player who can with that is really useful. It makes them so much better in midfield, instead of having just a solid pair, they have more than that. I think Fiorentina might sell if they’re offered between £20-£25 million. He’s 26 and has played a lot of games for them. It could be more, but that’s how much I think he is worth.

Let’s move on to strikers. Since all are departing, and Zaha will be playing as a second striker, bringing in two would make sense. The first is Karl-Toko Ekambi. The Villarrael striker has not had the best of seasons, but can’t all be blamed. Villarreal have been really bad this season, and have only recently looked like surviving. It was a massive decline from a side that qualified for the Europa League last season. Ekambi arrived in the summer to fix their goal problem, alongside Gerard Moreno. He has scored 8 and assisted 1 in 19 starts, which is good considering he’s playing for a struggling side. Many might look at this selection as a strange one, and I get it. His shot numbers aren’t crazy high and he’s 26, so the chances of this changing are unlikely. He’s getting selected because he’s a really good finisher. He doesn’t overperform or underperform his xG, and has a respectable 0.44 xGP90, which is good considering he doesn’t play much. He is just a really good finisher and would fix one of my biggest issues with Palace, being they take a lot of shots, but not good ones. Bringing in a guy who will put those chances away is needed if they want to push onto the next level. I think Villarreal would sell for more than £20m. He is on a 5 year deal which would make it difficult to sign him. Ekambi has proven before that he can score goals. Villarreal signed him because of his impressive 17 goal season in Ligue 1. If he can replicate that for Crystal Palace, it could be exactlywhat they need.

My next striker choice is more of a wildcard, but would be a lot of fun. I’ve already brought up how the level of the Championship has improved massively in the past couple of years, and my next choice shows this. While Brentford don’t seem to be getting promotion this season, they have a very interesting attack. Ollie Watkins has been on the radar of so many clubs, and seems to be on the verge to a Premier League club very soon. Said Benrahma has been one of the best players in the league this season, and is now in double figures for goals and assists. While both of those players are great, the player I will be talking about is Neal Maupay. The Frenchman has been insanely good this season, scoring 21 and assisting 7 in 38 appearances. He has played more than the players previously mentioned, and as been vital for Brentford. While small, he is quick, technically gifted and gets in very good areas. He is taking 3.4 shots per 90, more than anyone for Palace. While the clear quality difference needs to be pointed out, it’s still positive to have a young forward having such healthy shot numbers. He is also a good creator, which is needed they want to get even more out of Zaha. It’s something I forgot to bring up when talking about Ekambi, but both have very good key pass numbers. A little more is needed from them if Zaha is to work as a second striker. Maupay averages 1.4 per 90, which is very good for a striker. Bringing both Ekmbi and Maupay into the side will give them options and two very good finishers. It’s rumoured Brentford are asking for upwards to £20m for their forward, which is a fair price. It might be a lot for a Championship player, but he is clearly a step above that league.

That’s all the signings I would bring in. Let me know if there are any I might have missed. These names might not be the huge names, but it’s not about the names. It’s about being smart, in taking risks while also having players who are likely to succeed. The Eagles have potential to take that next step up. It’s insanely unlikely that they would take this advice, but it’s I would see in fixing this side.

4 Players Who Could FIX Spurs’s Midfield

Tottenham are in a position of trouble at the moment. Their stadium is still unfinished, which has left them with a real lack of resources to upgrade one some of the positions in their squad. It’s why players like Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld are still at the club. They do not want to risk a sale because there is a low chance they could bring in an improvement or even an equal replacement. However with a midfield full of players, it gives them not only the ability to sell, but an easy chance to improve on them. Let’s go through their options first and find out who should stay and who should go. This will only be brief.

Eric Dier

An ever present since his breakout season back in 2014, Dier is a player loved by Pochettino. Since 2015/16, he’s played over 30 games every season. His versatility, aggression and his injury free record do make him a player easy to like. I do think he is a player who is good to have in a squad, with the hectic game schedules that occurs during the winter. I just do not think he excels in anything. His defensive work does leave a lot to be desired. He isn’t a creator or a good dribbler, and rarely ever shoots. He is definitely worth keeping however. His ability to cover in defense is great to have and it’s always good to have a player who seems to be available whenever the manager needs him.

Conclusion – Keep

Moussa Sissoko

Easily one of the worst bits of business done by Tottenham in the past few years. Sissoko arrived after performing relatively well in the Euros back in 2016 for £30m. This all happened in the last hour of deadline day, which just shows the desperation. He came in during a summer which saw Tottenham sign Janssen, N’koudou, and Wanyama. None of these players screamed title challenge and ambition at the time, even if some were pretty smart bits of business. This was the same summer that saw Manchester United bring back Pogba for a record fee, N’golo Kante moving to Chelsea and John Stones moving for £50m to Man City. Sissoko came in to remind the league that they should be taken seriously, yet made them more of a laughing stock. While he has had a bit of a resurgence in recent months. His age and quality just isn’t what this team needs.

Conclusion – Sell

Victor Wanyama

As mentioned, Wanyama came in back in 2016 for a very cheap £11m. Spurs sold both Mason and Bentaleb that summer, so midfield support was needed. The Kenyan did very well at Southampton. He was an absolute titan in midfield, using his size and strength to win the ball back for the saints, and help protect the defense. Dier did often cover in defense, so bringing in a player, who while not as flexible, was still a better player than his English teammate. He had an excellent first season at White Hart Lane, playing 36 games. While his defense work did drop (which is due to Spurs having more possession than his former side), his passing accuracy and chance creation were at a career high. He was on the up, but a growing injury record has halted his progression. It might seem ruthless, but it might be time to let him go. There shouldn’t be a place for a player who is this unreliable.

Conclusion – Sell

Mousa Dembélé

Dembélé is a classic example of a player who might not be a fancy name, but adds so much to your midfield. His dribble success rate, solid defensive numbers made him one of the critics’ favourite midfielders in Europe. He could plug a gap in midfield that can be so difficult. However last season, this talent of his started to decline. His dribble numbers were dropping and his defensive work jumped off a cliff. This season it has only gotten worse, making his usability even less. This isn’t all his fault. It’s the effects of aging in football. Eventually your numbers drop like this and every player has experienced it. It’s just a shame it’s happened faster to Dembélé. The Belgian was incredible on his day, but now it might be time for him to move on and play in a less demanding system.

Conclusion – Sell

Harry Winks

When he broke onto the scene last season, I thought he was a massive boost for Tottenham. Of course he was playing in the 2016/17 season, but only played 480 minutes. However he began last season very well, with his performance against Madrid highlighting how promising he is. His range of passing is incredible, and keeps a solid 91% pass accuracy. While his chance creation is still quite low, there is definitely a real talent here who still has a lot of work to do. My biggest problem with Winks is his defensive awareness. In their game against Barcelona at Wembley, he was at fault for a majority of the goals, because he allowed Messi and Arthur to just walk through the midfield. It is was arguably one of the worst midfield performances I’ve ever seen this season. He is still a talented player and does add something to this squad, so he will remain.

Conclusion – Keep

The reason I’ve went through this is to examine what Tottenham truly need, after the right sales are made. They will not only need one midfielder, but two. A very clear Dembélé replacement, to help with transition from defense to attack, and to win the ball high up the pitch. The first move I’ll be making is to promote Oliver Skipp to the first team, as an available option. He has only started a single Premier League game this season so it is difficult to know if he is ready. However he did put in the most tackles for Tottenham, won the most aerial duels and created a chance. He is only 18 so the experience is invaluable at his age. The next player to bring in is a more defensively minded player, someone who might not contribute much in an attacking sense, but will offer solid protection to the back line. Let’s begin with the 4 midfielders who could fix this midfield.

Nicolò Barella

This will be my Dembélé replacement. Barella has been on the radar of many big clubs for a couple of years now. He possesses very high defensive numbers and is a very good dribbler. Last year, Pirlo and Totti both highlighted him as the future of Italian football, and it’s clear to see why. He has been playing for an average Cagliari side, who aren’t prolific in front of goal and are mostly average at the back. He wins the most tackles for his side per 90, with 2.7, and attempts the most dribbles. The problem with Barella recently has been his decline in his dribbling. It’s went from a very impressive 1.5, to 0.8. This is easily explained by opposition teams seeming to figure him out. They have realised that he is one of Cagliari’s most threatening players and know he has to be dealt with. It’s shown by the number of times he is fouled is increasing. It’s went from 1.9 to 2.6, a dramatic increase and it has made this season a bit more difficult for him. He still attempts the most dribbles however and it’s clear how important he is to the transition of this side. Even with his completed dribbles decreasing, he is attempting more, giving away less fouls, shooting and creating more chances and even completing more passes. The problems he’s facing could only be because he’s the best player in this side, making him an easy target. If he did go to Tottenham, I don’t think he’d have the same problem, with Eriksen, Kane and Alli all seen as huge threats. It would give that unpredictability again, and truly bring out the best in him. He’s 21 at the moment, making him a perfect signing for Tottenham, but also a slight risk. He has never played in a Champions League side before, so the amount of games could be surprising, but as mentioned he will be one of two signings, and Spurs do not have the resources to spend of Champions League players. He attempts more dribbles than any other Spurs midfielder, and only Foyth (who has only played 6 games) wins more tackles than Barella’s 2.7. This could be explained by Spurs simply more of a possession side, but it would still be a massive help, knowing he’s that good at winning the ball back. His disciplinary record is also a bit of a worry, with the Italian being sent of already this season, and amassing 13 yellow cards last season. However it is his responsibility in the Cagliari side to win the ball back, and usually that involves making tackles to stop counter attacks. He would cost Tottenham a record fee of more than £45m, which for a player who would be such an improvement, would definitely be worth it.

Ibrahim Sangaré

A player I have spoken about previously, but let’s go through why I think he just makes sense as a signing. Ligue 1 is always a league full of players that go under the radar, as seen by Brighton signing Bissouma for next to nothing. Sangaré is another along this line. The Ivorian started the season so well for Toulouse, but picked up an injury at the end of October, tearing his tendon. It’s forced him to miss 10 games so far, and hopefully will be back by the end of January. Nevertheless, he is a player with a lot of potential. He’s played 9 games so far this season, playing the full 90 on every occasion, and his stats look incredible. He’s completing 4.3 tackles per 90, the most for his side and more than anyone who has made as many appearances as Sangaré. What is most impressive about the midfielder is his dribbling. For a 6.3ft player, he is actually very mobile, completing a crazy 2.3 dribbles per 90, with a 71% success rate. He can just do everything, all from a number 6 position. He’s even taking 1.2 shots per game, with 0.8 in the penalty area. He is somehow putting in a high volume of tackles, completing a lot of dribbles and even advancing to the opposition box. It is simply incredible. He seem to be able to fill in both in a defensive sense, and being able to help with transition, with Barella now being linked to Chelsea, I would recommend going for Sangaré, if Barella is too pricey. But this all depends on if these numbers continue when he comes back from injury. If they are, he has to be a high target.

Philip Billing

While both Sangaré and Barella should be top targets, and have potential to improve this team, Philip Billing is a signing I can’t recommend more. He is playing for an awful defensive and offensive side. Huddersfield seem unable to score goals, and keep clean sheets. There is a very likely chance they will get relegated, and Billing should definitely be the first player to be taken from them. He has been very good this season. He is a large player, who is winning 3 aerial duels a game, and is winning 5.6 tackles and interceptions this season. While that does seem likely considering how often he will be without the ball, it’s just how dynamic and aggressive he wins it. Billing is seen all over the pitch and doesn’t seem to have a set zone to stay in. He just roams and intercepts the ball, and does this effectively. He’s already started more than double the games he did last season, and only Idrissa Gueye wins more tackles in midfield than the Danish midfielder. The only problem is he really doesn’t offer much in attacking sense. While Sangaré was taking a majority of his shots in the box, making him a very good box to box midfielder, Billing is the complete opposite. He takes most from outside the box. It can’t all be blamed on him. As mentioned, Huddersfield are awful and it could be Billing just wanting to help his team in any way, and taking any half chance they have. His chance creation and passing aren’t exactly great, but he is playing for quite a poor side, and is seemingly being relied heavily on not only defensively, but on the other side of the pitch. If he is given a specific role, and grow in his ability on the ball, he would be a fine player for Tottenham. With Huddersfield going down, it’s possible to get him out for less than £15m, which would be a massive steal for a club that need some.

Mario Lemina

Arguably the most obvious of signings. Lemina fits the Dembélé mold pretty easily. He is an excellent dribbler and puts in a lot of defensive work. While he did excel in a poor Southampton team last season, completing 2.2 dribbles and winning 4.8 tackles and interceptions last season, he is now playing under a manager who isn’t awful. Ralph Hasenhüttl has brought in an aggressive press into this side. This made so much sense because many of the players at the club are able to play a pressing system, with Lemina being one of them. His ability to win the ball back and his transitional play make him perfect. The problem with trying to bring him in would be the price. He’s currently 25 years old, a player at the perfect age, where he’s at his peak while also having the ability to improve. The problem with bringing him in is the price. Southampton charge a lot for their best players, and Lemina would be no exception. Hasenhüttl has already said that Lemina is a very important part of his plans, so letting him go for less than £40m would be unlikely. I would definitely recommend him, but it just depends on if Spurs want to spend a lot on him.

That’s the four players I would recommend. I think Billing is a must depending on Huddersfield’s relegation (which looks likely). Sangaré would need to keep up his form after his eventual return to justify a big move. Barella is currently being pursued by Chelsea, which are a club that are difficult to beat when it comes to transfers. Lemina would make so much sense, but it all depends on how well he does this season. He has enough talent to justify a purchase. Spurs are in a real money problem at the moment. I’d recommend Sangaré and Billing if money is a problem. They might work, but would have sell on value. This is a massive area for Tottenham, and need to get it right.