With the title wrapped up bar a PSG like collapse and the relegation battle ending sooner rather than later as teams like Palace and Leicester begin to pull away I thought I’d take an early look at the three best ways to improve the current 20 teams in England’s premier football decision. I will break it down into 20 separate articles as a series of sorts in order to keep it shorter and more manageable to read so keep an eye out!
Sign Mamadou Sakho permanently – Sakho’s now infamous antics across social media and Liverpool TV during their preseason tour – in particular when he interrupted his manager in an interview at Alcatraz – led to Jurgen Klopp ostracizing him from the team regardless of Liverpool’s obvious defensive frailties.
Sakho is a talented but erratic defender who since joining the Premier League makes disastrous mistakes with odd positioning mere days after storming perfomances during his time on Merseyside. In the NFL, coaches can tolerate players difficult personalities provided the production outweighs the problems caused; probably as to why clubs will put up with constant controversy from Costa and Luis Suarez. Unfortunately for Sakho, he wasn’t anywhere near that level and Klopp clearly has indicated this by electing to play the unspectacular Klavan in place of him.
New surroundings, a relegation battle and a famously hard nosed manager in Sam Alladyce (who was able to keep El Hadj Diouf relatively in check) appears to have rejuvenated the Frenchman. In the 7 games he has played, Palace have kept 4 clean sheets; prior to that they had kept 2 all season in the league. They have also only conceded 4 times in those games and his presence has improved the performances of summer signing James Tomkins and allowing attacking players – Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend – the freedom to get the goals to give them indescribably important wins over Arsenal and Chelsea in their bid to beat the drop!
To put this into context, the 2 clean sheets would put them rock bottom for number of clean sheets kept in the Premier League; with 6 they are up to 16th which is above rivals Swansea, Hull and Sunderland. That is how important the recent defensive shore up has been and so Alladyce – a defensive genius – would be wise to take advantage of Klopp’s desperation to part ways with the defender and get him at a bargain fee this summer.
Improve the supply for Benteke – Crystal Palace have actually scored with relative ease considering the position they find themselves in at this late stage of the season. With 44 league goals scored putting them as the 9th highest scoring team and with potentially a much better defensive set up (once Alladyce has had a full preseason to improve them) they could be looking to target a top ten finish next year.
However, their best player Wilfried Zaha, is widely tipped to leave in the summer having seen a move to Spurs last year rejected by the club. With Bolasie’s sale to Everton they couldn’t afford to commission the loss of another talented attacking player and by standing firm they were rewarded with a much improved season culminating in 9 assists for the Ivorian (the same number as Alexis Sanchez!).
Most of Sam Alladyce’s teams are set up very difficult to break down and difficult to handle in attack often focusing on bruising forward play and crosses into the box. At Bolton it was Kevin Davies, Newcastle had Andy Carroll, and at Crystal Palace he has his most talented yet in Christian Benteke. What he doesn’t have, especially if Zaha leaves, is a supporting attacking midfielder behind him like a Nolan or Okotcha or a cross specialist like Morten Gamst Pedersen.
Yohan Cabaye seems content to play a deeper role than he did at Newcastle and Andros Townsend doesn’t possess the same sweet left foot as the Norwegian. If they hadn’t already moved in January, Robbie Brady or Robert Snodgrass would have seemed like ideal fits for this type of role but they’re unlikely to be available again so soon.
As a result, I’d have to recommend the club look to sign Gylfi Sigurdsson if Swansea are the unfortunate 3rd team to go down (Boro and Sunderland pretty much a certainty at this stage!). Only Kevin de Bruyne and Christian Eriksen have bettered his return of 11 league assists to go along with his 8 league goals. He is far too good to play in the Championship or be wasted on the bench at White Hart Lane; more to the point, Benteke would absolutely feast on the Icelander’s crosses/set pieces. It’s a match made in heaven and Benteke would finally have a team play to his strengths!
An honourable mention to replace Zaha as well would be Adama Traore. He’s not a finished article by any stretch but he possesses unique athletic ability – he is lightning fast – and great trickery that does not fit in with defensively rigid Middlesborough who have suppressed him all year. At Palace, allowed to express himself in a role like Zaha I think Adama would develop and thrive.
Find a strike partner for Benteke – When Crystal Palace brought Loic Remy across on loan from Chelsea I really thought they were onto something, certainly at QPR he seemed like a goalscorer who would be worthy of a top half team!
It hasn’t really worked out for the Frenchmen who has made very few appearances and has yet to score this season; expect him to move on again this season but it wont be Palace moving for him.
The problem is, when Remy completes his loan, the only striker behind Benteke is Connor Wickham; a man who averages 0.17 goals per game in the Premier League across his career. Not exactly the man to lead the line!
It’s difficult to know exactly what type of player to suggest because it is hard to predict the budgets available to clubs – seemingly all English teams are wealthy now – and exactly the formation Alladyce will look to set up. Realistically he’ll stay with one up top and so you’d have to imagine he just needs a backup striker.
With that in mind a player like Alvaro Negredo or Llorente would make sense as tall, aerial threats who can get goals in the league – especially the latter – and wont want to feature in Championship football. Other considerations would be Bas Dost [Sporting Lisbon] or Anthony Modeste [FC Koln] who have between them accounted for 56 club goals between them this season! Also, due to them both being close to 30, and the size of the clubs they play for I don’t see any reason Palace – with all the league’s new TV deals – couldn’t afford the price tags.