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Crystal Palace 2020/21: Can Eagles break into top 10?

The 2020/21 season will mark Crystal Palace's eighth successive year in the Premier League - their longest ever stay in England's top flight. The upcoming season will be as much about gradual strengthening as continued movement up the table.

By Crystal Palace's standards, they were safe from relegation relatively early last term. They were essentially assured of their place in the Premier League this season by the time the season was abruptly suspended in March. There is even an argument to say they could have finished higher than 14th, having been in a spot of good form before the break.

But it was the results and performances earlier in the campaign that helped them to a comfortable finish without having to look over their shoulders when a tough end of season schedule arrived. This season represents the chance for Crystal Palace to keep building on the solid base Roy Hodgson has created and attempt to break into that top 10.

Where they stand

Heading into the restart, Crystal Palace had the toughest run of any Premier League side. They had won and kept clean sheets in their three games before the break and carried this on with a 2-0 victory against now-relegated Bournemouth.

But unfortunately, that's where the winning streak ended. They lost their next seven Premier League games and matched the dismal run of form under Frank de Boer at the start of the 2017/18 season with Hodgson soon brought in to replace the Dutchman.

Crystal Palace transfer business so far

In
Nathan Ferguson - West Brom, free
Eberechi Eze - QPR, £16m

Out
Jason Lokilo - Doncaster, free
Stephen Henderson - released
Ryan Inniss - released

However, last season's final fixtures included games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester, Manchester United and Wolves, and Crystal Palace did register a 1-1 draw with Tottenham on the final day of the season to end the season on a more positive note.

Where they're strong

Wilfried Zaha is still searching for the exit door at Selhurst Park, but he has been their key driving force once again, hoisting the club to rank among the elite for dribbles and winning fouls - with help from Jordan Ayew.

The Eagles won 479 fouls in the Premier League last season - only beaten by Aston Villa - and made 431 dribbles, putting them into the top six.

While the club seemingly depends on the duo for forward momentum, the collective team ethos of getting stuck in is epitomised by their rankings for tackles and interceptions - with the underrated James McArthur at the heart of this spirit.

He has been an ever-present in the middle of the park and started in 37 of 38 Premier League matches last term, making the most interceptions (161) and tackles (88) of the team. Although McArthur did not score, he did have three Premier League assists - the joint most for club with Zaha.

Where they need to improve

Crystal Palace are in some serious need of firepower. They scored the second lowest number of goals in the Premier League last season (31) - only behind relegated Norwich - and are second from bottom for shots taken (376).

They also failed to score more than twice in any of their Premier League games this season. It's the eighth time a team has gone through a whole campaign without doing so, while Crystal Palace are the first to do so while avoiding relegation.

It will also be no surprise to see Palace target younger players during this transfer window. Crystal Palace's starting XI had the highest average age of any team in the Premier League at 29 years and 336 days. That may also be a key factor in why they rank bottom in the league for sprints, and only Wolves covered less distance.

And Hodgson has already gone some way to resolving both issues with the signing of 22-year-old Eberechi Eze from QPR. He started in every Sky Bet Championship game last season, scoring 14 goals with eight assists. If he can replicate the same form at Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace will have solved their biggest problem.

Key man

It's hard to look much further than Zaha, who continues to be Crystal Palace's star man. He can create a moment of magic in an instant that switches the game and, as already outlined above, his direct style of play continues to cause issues for the Premier League's defences.

He ranked the highest in the league for take-ons attempted (267) with 163 of them completed, and won the second highest number of fouls (120). Zaha also featured in all 38 Premier League matches last season and had the joint-highest assists (3), most shots (61) and most chances created (36) in the Crystal Palace team with four goals scored.

The biggest question is can Crystal Palace keep hold of their man? Zaha is said to be set on leaving Selhurst Park this summer with Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and Monaco keen on the winger.

One to watch

Keep your eye out for young left-back Tyrick Mitchell. The Crystal Palace academy product was included in each matchday squad after the restart and made four Premier League appearances.

He started in the last two games against Wolves and Tottenham and caught the eye with his performances up against Adama Traore and Lucas Moura - no mean feat for any defender. Even Jose Mourinho singled Mitchell out for praise after the final game of the season.

Patrick Van Aanholt will be the first choice left-back for the time being, but he picked up his share of injuries last season and has just turned 30. With Hodgson looking to reduce the age of his squad, and already claiming that Mitchell can provide 'severe competition' for the Dutch defender, it might not be long before the talented 20-year-old is a regular starter.

Source: Crystal Palace FC

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