By Michael Bridge, Sky Sports News reporter
Last Updated: 09/06/20 10:25pm
It could be a summer of change in South London. As Crystal Palace prepare to restart the season, Sky Sports News’ Michael Bridge assesses the state of play at Selhurst Park.
There is only one Roy Hodgson.
Crystal Palace have punched above their weight again this season and a huge amount of credit must go to the manager. Palace will restart the season in 11th place in the Premier League and they are well-placed to finish the season in the top half of the table, above many clubs with much bigger budgets and stronger squads on paper.
In March, Hodgson ended speculation about his future by signing a contract extension which will keep him at the club until next summer.
He has done an excellent job at Palace after his disappointing spell as England manager. There are not many managers in the game who would have achieved what he has at Palace.
He has gone about his job quietly and with the minimum of fuss. Finishing 11th and 12th in the past two seasons means Palace can build for the future from a solid base instead of constantly having to worry about the threat of relegation.
Hodgson is the oldest manager in the Premier League at 72 and there were some concerns about whether he would be able to return to work, but he is in very good shape and delighted to be back working hard at the training ground.
He has a very good bond with his squad, but having said that, he is still going to have to take some tough decisions in the summer.
What next for Zaha?
It was no secret that Wilfried Zaha wanted to leave last summer, but the move didn’t happen and despite his initial disappointment he managed to get his head right and focus on doing his best for Palace.
The good news for Palace fans is that they don’t have to rely on him as much as they used to. Players like Jordan Ayew have been in exceptional form this season.
Nobody wants to see Zaha leave this summer, but Palace are now better equipped to deal with his departure if it does happen.
Zaha has changed agents and he recently said he wanted to win trophies. Palace held firm on their £80m valuation last summer.
There were bids from Arsenal and Everton but they weren’t big enough to tempt Palace. There is bound to be a correction in the transfer market this summer because of the financial after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but if Zaha leaves – and it is still only an if – it will only be on Palace’s terms.
Will Sakho be back?
There are also question marks about the future of centre-back Mamadou Sakho. He is 30 now and has had his fair share of injury problems this season.
Lyon would like to take him back to France, but they will not be able to get him on the cheap. Every player has his price and it will take close to £10m to persuade Palace to let him go this summer.
A shift in transfer policy
Whatever happens this summer, expect to see new faces at Selhurst Park next season. The sporting director Dougie Freedman knows the squad needs freshening up and he has been working hard to make sure Palace improve the overall makeup of their squad this summer.
The average age of the side for the 3-1 defeat at Everton in February was 30. That was their oldest starting XI in the Premier League and it needs to come down.
Palace have done some very good business signing experienced players such as Gary Cahill and Vicente Guaita but now the focus is likely to be on younger acquisitions. Experience will still be valued in the market, but so will raw talent and potential.
The key transfer targets in January were young players and that is not going to change when the summer window opens. West Brom full-back Nathan Ferguson almost joined on deadline day but there were concerns about a knee injury. That has now cleared up and he will be a free agent next month, so it will be no surprise to see him in a Palace shirt next season.
The QPR forward Eberechi Eze is also a key target but he is in demand and is valued at about £20m. Hodgson has talked recently about injecting some young blood into his squad and Eze ticks a lot of boxes. He is one of the best players in the Championship and has a big future ahead of him.
The Premier League returns
For the time being Palace are focusing on their first game back, which is away at Bournemouth a week on Saturday. Hodgson has a fully fit squad to choose from and he will be hoping his players get back into the groove as quickly as possible.
The season was suspended just after Palace had secured three 1-0 wins in a row – against Newcastle, Brighton and Watford. Palace are away at Liverpool in their second game back, and they have high-profile home games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham.
Palace have nothing to fear and they showed how good they can be when they beat United at Old Trafford in August. Hodgson has built a team who can beat anyone on their day. Plans are at an advanced stage to make sure he has a stronger squad next season. Perhaps then Hodgson will get the credit he deserves.