Is a Europa League spot a possibility for Crystal Palace?
Crystal Palace’s fine start to the season has surprised quite a number of football fans. The Eagles are usually one of the slowest out of the blocks in the early stages of the season, but this campaign has seen Roy Hodgson’s side buck that trend. A win over West Ham United at the London Stadium in early October meant Palace had picked up four wins from their first eight games, putting the club sixth in the Premier League table.
Such dizzy heights will undoubtedly have some supporters dreaming of Europa League qualification. While it is, of course, very early days in this Premier League season, Palace may look at previous examples of unfancied sides earning a place in Europe and take heart.
Just a couple of years ago, Burnley remarkably finished in seventh-place, earning themselves a shot at the Europa League. While the Clarets failed to make a meaningful impact on the tournament, other unfancied English sides have defied europa league betting odds to go far in Europe’s secondary club competition.
In the 2005-06 season, Middlesbrough went on an unforgettable run to the final, where they lost out to a superior Sevilla side. Fulham achieved a similar feat in 2010, reaching the final where they narrowly lost to Atlético Madrid after extra time.
It was Hodgson who masterminded that Fulham Europa League run, and it seems he may be dreaming of achieving similar things at Selhurst Park. Such aspirations are a long way off, however. For now, the debate is as to whether or not Palace can maintain this impressive early season form throughout the length of the season. Has it been a solid start and nothing more, or are there signs that Europe may be a possibility for Crystal Palace this season?
The thing to look at is the Eagles’ defence, which has seen a marked improvement of late. Centre-half Gary Cahill was brought in after running down his contract at Chelsea, and he has made a real impact, wearing the captain’s armband on a few occasions, and using all his experience to marshal the backline.
Alongside him, Martin Kelly has been a player reborn this campaign. The former Liverpool defender had been a bit-part player for Palace in the last couple of seasons, usually playing at right-back, but this season he has established himself at the heart of the Palace defence. Palace’s worst performance of the season, a 4-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, came when Kelly was absent through injury. Aside from that Spurs loss, Palace have only conceded four goals in their other seven matches, and have kept three clean sheets in total.
Going forward, there are still concerns for Crystal Palace, and this could be where the team gets unstuck as they seek to maintain their good form. Eight goals from eight matches is not the tally you would expect from a top-half side, and the likes of Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew have failed to produce their best form in front of goal. However, in Wilfried Zaha, Palace have one of the league’s top wingers, dazzling defenders with his mazy runs and audacious tricks. Keeping him fit, and at the club beyond the January transfer window, will be key if Palace are to enjoy a successful season.
Another important factor is Hodgson himself. At 72, Hodgson is the oldest manager to coach a Premier League team in the competition’s history, and that brings with it a wealth of experience. Hodgson is something of a specialist at taking less successful Premier League clubs and exceeding expectations.
As already mentioned, he worked wonders at Fulham to reach the Europa League final and establish the club as a top-half force in the Premier League. At West Brom, he guided the Baggies to a tenth-placed finish in the 2011-12 season, their highest finish in Premier League history at the time. Although many felt Hodgson’s best days were behind him after England’s Euro 2016 humiliation at the hands of Iceland, he has proved critics wrong with the job he has done at Palace since then.
Hodgson is a master at organising defences and extracting maximum performance from a limited playing squad. The 2-1 win against Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier in the season was evidence of all that Hodgson brings to the table with his sides – hard work, organisation, and a collective spirit of determination. To have any aspirations of keeping this form going until the end of the season, Palace will have to keep showing those qualities in abundance.
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