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Crystal Palace: BTSport.com's Premier League 2019/20 season preview

The Eagles remedied another poor start to a Premier League campaign with a strong finish to stave off relegation fears. Now Roy Hodgson will be looking for some consistency in what is their seventh straight season in the top flight.

Last season's Premier League finish: 12th - W14 D7 L17 - F51 A53 - Pts 49

Last season's top scorer: Luka Milivojevic - 12

To finish in the top half*: 11/4

First five fixtures: Everton (H), Sheffield United (A), Manchester United (A), Aston Villa (H), Tottenham (A)

Predicted finish (BTSport.com writers' combined prediction): 16th

Predicted finish by The Script: 10th

Transfers in: Jordan Ayew - Swansea (£2.5m), Stephen Henderson - Nottingham Forest (free), Gary Cahill - free transfer, Victor Camarasa - Real Betis (loan)

Transfers out: Jason Puncheon - Pafos (free), Aaron Wan-Bissaka - Manchester United (£50m), Jason Puncheon, Julian Speroni, Bakary Sako (all released), Joseph Hungbo - Watford (free), Levi Lumeka - Varzim (undisclosed), Ollie Dwyer - Aldershot Town (free), Pape Souare - Troyes (undisclosed), Alexander Sorloth - Trabszonspor (loan)

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Read on for BTSport.com's in-depth Crystal Palace season preview, or check out more from our exclusive series:

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Reasons to be optimistic

That Wilfried Zaha is still at Crystal Palace ahead of their opening game against Everton - one of the sides who pursued him this summer - should be cause for celebration in throughout wider Croydon. The Ivory Coast international is key to Roy Hodgson’s counter-attacking approach and comfortably the best player at the club.

Palace enjoyed an impressive run of results at the back end of last season that will give fans encouragement heading into the 2019/20 campaign. Hodgson’s men took 27 points from their final 15 matches to steer themselves clear of the relegation zone and secure a 12th-placed finish.

The run included a 4-1 victory at Leicester, a 3-2 win at Arsenal and putting five past Bournemouth on the final day. Palace will look to carry over that form into a relatively kind start which sees them face newly-promoted duo Sheffield United and Aston Villa in their opening four matches.

Under Hodgson they have a clear identity and a system that plays to their strengths. Those counter-attacking tactics saw Palace stun the imperious Manchester City 3-2 at the Etihad in December, while also explaining why the Eagles enjoyed the sixth-best away record in the division.

Selhurst Park is regarded as boasting one of the most vociferous crowds in the country and yet only Huddersfield won fewer points at home than Palace did last season. The most experienced coach in the Premier League will look to remedy that record in the upcoming campaign.

Creative midfielder Max Meyer could be key to unlocking visiting opposition defences. The Germany international failed to make a lasting impact during his first 12 months at Palace but at just 23 years old, much is expected of him in 2019/20. The introduction of VAR could also mean more penalties for Palace – most likely won by Zaha and scored by Luka Milivojevic.

Reasons to be fearful​

For Palace, everything centres on Zaha. Even if they successfully hold on to their prized asset beyond the European transfer windows, fans are justifiably concerned that the winger will be distracted heading into the new campaign. 

Earlier this summer, Zaha informed Palace he wanted to join Arsenal, a club he supported as a boy, and even handed in a transfer request. It was only the Gunners’ inability to match their London rivals' £80m valuation that prevented him leaving.

Everton have also had a big-money offer rebuffed in recent weeks, while Napoli are reportedly considering a late swoop for the Ivorian - who spent this summer with his country in Egypt at the African Cup of Nations. 

Palace may suffer themselves from holding on to an unhappy Zaha, kept at the club against his wishes. It also remains to be seen how supporters at Selhurst Park receive him for the opening game of the season against Everton after agitating so doggedly for a move.

One player who has departed, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, leaves a gaping hole at right-back. Joel Ward is likely to fill in and while a popular figure at the club, he provides nowhere near the level of production the now Manchester United man brought during his breakout 2018/19 campaign.

Gary Cahill has arrived on a free transfer from Chelsea but it's hard to invisage the 33-year-old contributing much having made just two Premier League substitute appearances last season.

They are also worryingly short in the striking department. Palace bizarrely chose to make Jordan Ayew’s loan deal permanent despite an underwhelming spell in south London last term. Fellow loanee Michy Batshuayi has gone back to parent club Chelsea, so only Ayew, Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham remain as Hodgson’s options up front. The quartet scored two Premier League goals between them last season.

Palace will need to ensure they are well clear of relegation trouble heading into the home straight with games against Leicester, Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolves and Tottenham to end the season.

Key man: Wilfried Zaha

It seems the hometown hero could be set to remain. Despite offers from first Arsenal and then Everton, Crystal Palace are prepared to hold firm on their valuation of the winger and it is easy to understand why. Zaha is one of the most exciting talents in the division - and one of the most effective.

Both Hodgson and Zaha himself have moved to deny they are a one-man team in the past but Palace’s dependency on the academy product is undeniable. Zaha scored or assisted 15 of Palace’s Premier League goals, representing 29% of their total.

When Palace beat Leicester 1-0 in December 2018 it was the first time they’d won a game without Zaha since September 2016 - four managers and 27 months ago.

The 26-year-old is arguably the most productive dribbler in the country. Since the 2014/15 season, Zaha has attempted more dribbles than any other Premier League player and is ranked second in both completed dribbles and successful duels.

Performances like his two-goal masterclass away at Leicester in February or the brilliant displays both home and away against Arsenal are the reason why he continues to court so much interest.

Zaha's willingness to take on defenders inside the box is key for Palace. In total he won six penalties last season, more than any other player in the Premier League. With the introduction of VAR, expect that total to be even higher in 2019/20.

It is unfair to suggest the likes of Andros Townsend and Milivojevic are not important to Palace but almost all of the Eagles’ good work goes through Zaha. As Hodgson’s men head into the season once again without a recognised goalscorer, they will be as dependent as always on their star man.

The manager: Roy Hodgson

The oldest manager in Premier League history is preparing himself for another season in the job, 43 years after taking his first position with Swedish side Halmstad.

There were sceptics when hometown boy Hodgson, in his first job since England’s Euro 2016 debacle, was drafted in to steady the ship in September 2017 after the dismissal of Frank de Boer.

The Dutchman was sacked after 77 days and four consecutive defeats without scoring to begin the season and Palace were the favourites for relegation. Hodgson, though, steered them to 11th and last season he guided them to a similarly comfortable 12th. 

Given his age, it’s easy to label the Palace manager a dinosaur. Hodgson will be the only coach in the Premier League who played 4-4-2 in the majority of their matches last season. But with an emphasis on remaining compact out of possession and breaking quickly when they win the ball back, utilising the pace of their forwards, the system plays to Palace’s strengths.

Lining up in a 4-5-1, Palace secured a shock 3-2 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad by adhering to Hodgson’s system, springing rapdily on the counter-attack and winning with just 22% of the ball. The Eagles thrive when they are inviting pressure, particularly on the road.

Hodgson’s 4-4-2 may not take Palace to the next level but it’s been enough to secure survival until now. Will he be able to deliver a third straight season of stability?

Fans' view - Chris Hambling - Back of the Nest Podcast

"There’s a danger in assuming we’ll see more of the same from Palace this season but we can’t take that for granted. The quality of Zaha and Wan-Bissaka last season showed up the lack of quality in other areas of the team.

"Because Hodgson plays the way he does the team can be very frustrating to watch at home. His style is all about defensive shape, keeping the right distances between players and squeezing the space. There’s an emphasis on recovery when we lose the ball and that can nullify the attacking players.

"But away from home we are at our best when we break with pace and then retreat. It’s telling that the win at Manchester City was followed up by a 0-0 draw at home to Cardiff.

"We’ve tended to start poorly and finish strongly in the last few seasons but looking at the fixtures this season could be different. We could get off to a decent start but there’s a really tough period at the end of the season that we could struggle in.

"That, in a nutshell, is why Palace fans are both grateful and frustrated with Roy. I don’t fear relegation with Hodgson in charge but I do fear a lack of progression.

"I’m expecting a lower mid-table finish but I do think we are capable of pushing seventh with some of the players we have."

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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