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Survival still the priority for Palace despite positive start

As far as the Premier League summer transfer window went, it is hard to beat Manchester United for star power. The arrivals of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo means Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now has one of the most talented squads in Europe at his disposal. Having finished second last term, there is no reason why United should not mount a sustained title tilt this term. Relatively speaking, though, it could be argued that Crystal Palace had the best window of all.

There was much trepidation going into the summer, with Roy Hodgson vacating the managerial hot seat and numerous players out of contract. A failure to land either Nuno Espirito Santo or Lucien Favre, both of whom opted against taking the Palace job at the last minute, only added to the sense of dread in some quarters.

Palace ultimately turned to Patrick Vieira, handing the former Arsenal captain the reins in early July. A deal to sign Michael Olise, the Championship’s Young Player of the Year in 2020/21, was agreed soon after. Palace subsequently added Marc Guehi, Joachim Andersen, Conor Gallagher and Will Hughes to the ranks, before the deadline-day purchase of Odsonne Edouard from Celtic.

The main goal at the start of the summer was to significantly lower the average age of the squad, which was the oldest in the Premier League last season. That objective has been realised. Hughes is the oldest acquisition at 26. With the exception of Gallagher, who is on a season-long loan from Chelsea, the new signings have all penned long-term deals. Each has resale value – an important step forward for a club which has brought in very little from player sales in recent years, save for Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s £50m move to Manchester United.

Palace showed a clear sense of direction all summer. Gary Cahill, 35, was a regular last season but the hierarchy did not panic when he refused to lower his wage demands. The 34-year-old Scott Dann, an integral figure in the early years after promotion, was also let go. Joel Ward was handed a new two-year deal, but there was no sentimentality involved: the former Portsmouth man, for all his limitations in the final third, remains Palace’s best right-back, at least until Nathan Ferguson regains full fitness.

It is hard to shake the sensation that Palace have wanted to enact such an operation for a while, but could not perform a thorough refresh while Hodgson was still in charge. The former England boss, for good reason, favoured experienced players. That suited his style of play, and no one can argue with the results. But when Hodgson moved on, the sporting director Dougie Freedman was given the power to implement a longer term and more sustainable recruitment strategy. The Scot has been criticised in the past, but he deserves great credit for his work this summer.

Only time will tell how successful a window this has been for Palace. Should they end the season in the bottom three, they will no doubt be accused of having tried to change too much, too quickly. But the positivity around Selhurst Park is palpable, and a younger, more vibrant squad should produce more entertaining football. There is plenty to be excited about and Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur will only heighten that.

Conor Gallagher has been Palace’s best player in the opening games, while Edouard’s late brace capped an incredible debut for the former-Celtic striker. With Joachim Anderson and Marc Guehi both making very positive starts in the centre of defence and Michael Olise making a cameo after recovering from injury, you could argue that the signings could barely have hit the ground running faster.

Even so, the target for the campaign should still be survival. Palace have a new manager, whose experience in European football is limited, a new-look squad and a very different style of play. This is a transitional season. A 17th-place finish, for now at least, should not be sniffed at.

 


 

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