The 2017/18 season for Crystal Palace will be remembered for their incredible turnaround and Premier League survival under Roy Hodgson. But there will undoubtedly be a nagging sense of what might have been for the Eagles.
Had they not invested money and four league games in Frank de Boer, then perhaps Palace would be embarking on a European tour next term.
Under Hodgson the south London side have averaged 1.29 points per game, extrapolated over a 38-match campaign that would’ve seen the rack up 49 points, enough to have secured eighth place.
While that alone wouldn’t have been enough to have ensured a Europa League berth, it did take the ex-England boss time to get the Palace ship back on course.
The Eagles lost their first three games under Hodgson, only claiming victory in match No.8 of the Premier League season, a 2-1 win over Chelsea. Since then no team outside the top six has taken more points than Crystal Palace (44).
It’s that improvement, coupled with the underlying stats from Hodgson’s reign that suggests next season, if they’re able to keep talisman Wilfried Zaha at Selhurst Park, Palace can push for Europe.
This wasn’t expected
The 2017/18 campaign saw xG (expected goals) come to the attention of the wider football public. Some have scoffed at the model, others have embraced it.
What it does do, however, is highlight teams’ and players’ over and under performance. So where do Palace fit in?
Well the Eagles’ xG since Hodgson’s appointment throws up a huge surprise. It stands at 52.48, well above their actual output of 45. But that isn’t the big shock, if you’ve watched Palace this season you will know that they – largely Christian Benteke – miss a fair amount of chances.
What many will be stunned to know is that total is the sixth highest in the Premier League, above Manchester United (48.29).
So the attacking foundations are in place for Hodgson ahead of next season, but only if Zaha stays at the club.
The Ivory Coast international is undoubtedly the best player outside of the top flight’s big six clubs and hanging on to him won’t be easy. Interest is mounting, from Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Yet he has an affinity with Palace that few players have for the team they represent. He is the local lad living the dream. The Palace fan on the pitch. The irreplaceable heartbeat of the side.
In his 29 Premier League appearances Zaha scored nine goals and claimed three assists, roughly in line with his xG (9.74) and expected goals assisted (5.30). He is performing to the level expected of him.
What can be expected next season?
Of course, much well depend on Palace’s transfer business in the summer, that much is obvious.
Keeping Zaha is a must, bringing in a player of equal quality to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who is expected to be given a chance by Chelsea next season, will be important, but the perhaps the biggest challenge of all is finding a consistent goalscorer.
As touched on above, Benteke was awful in front of goal this term. Yes, he was important to how Palace built attacks and managed games, but the club didn’t spend over £30million on the Belgian to be solely a target man.
In the Premier League the former Aston Villa striker netted just three goals in 31 appearances. Damningly his xG was 11.17, no top flight player has underperformed their xG so badly.
If Palace have a more clinical striker in place next season, there’s little doubt defeats will turn into draws, and draws into victories.
The defence needs shoring up a little – their xGA under Hodgson of 47.55 is still the eleventh worst in the division – yet with a greater goal threat up front Palace would arguably be more comfortable in games.
The potential is certainly there for the Eagles, however. Hodgson has rebuilt his reputation at Selhurst Park and has the tools in place to elevate it during the 2018/19 campaign.
If he gets everything right then Palace fans could be planning for a European tour in 2019/20.