The writing appears to be on the wall for Crystal Palace. A mere five points from 12 matches, coupled with an inability to beat the teams around them, indicates that Palace’s five-year stay in the Premier League is set to come to an end.
How Can Crystal Palace Avoid Relegation?
Is There Any Hope?
Only Everton have survived in the Premier League with such a low points total at this stage in the season. However, that shows that is still possible for Palace to drag themselves out of the mire.
Although they aren’t picking up the desired victories, Roy Hodgson will be pleased with aspects of the performances in their last three games.
In the next match away at Spurs, Wilfried Zaha spurned a golden opportunity to earn a valuable point at Wembley. As well as this, Palace were Tottenham’s equals for much of the game and can feel slightly disheartened at the outcome.
Another 2-2 home draw followed, this time against Everton last weekend. A dive from Oumar Niasse to win a penalty and a lapse of concentration from Julian Speroni and Scott Dann cost Palace another win that they deserved.
So, Hodgson has positives to build upon. The quality of performance has generally been very good over these three games. Individual errors are costing Palace dearly, but these often come from a lack of confidence.
A win against Stoke on Saturday could instil this into the squad and start some sort of winning run.
The Return of Benteke
One thing that has been glaringly obvious during this period for Palace is that they miss a focal point up front. Christian Benteke’s return from injury is timely for the Eagles.
He did fluff his lines when he came on against Everton. He can look lumbersome at times, and he misses a fair few chances.
However, the Belgian striker did score 15 times in the league last season, including winners against Sunderland, Chelsea and Liverpool, alongside some other key goals.
There is no doubt that Benteke would have made a difference in these last three games. The number of chances that Palace are creating means that any half-decent striker should capitalise, let alone one that cost £30 million.
Hodgson does seem to enjoy the narrowness and solidity that comes from having Zaha and Andros Townsend as strikers instead of wingers. But someone of Benteke’s prowess cannot be ignored for long and he could be the key ingredient to finish these close matches off.
The Fixture List
The fixtures leading up to Christmas are vital. Although two ‘easier’ matches have passed against West Ham and Everton, there are still many points that could be picked up before the festive period.
They are playing five of the bottom half over the next seven fixtures, and one of the other two games is a grudge match against Brighton. This represents a real chance to gather momentum.
Football is often a confidence sport, and one win can set the ball rolling. As the cliché goes, the form guide goes out of the window when it comes to a derby. This means that the Palace players should be fired up for that fixture regardless of the outcome against Stoke.
Should Palace not get a decent return out of these upcoming games, then it will be all over as they are so favourable.
January Transfer Window
On the other hand, if they do manage to get enough points to at least keep them in contention then this window could be vital.
Glaring errors were made in the summer transfer window by Palace.
The failure to sign a back-up forward was perhaps the worst of these. The injury to Benteke highlighted this more than ever. Even if he had stayed injury-free, there has been no striker on the bench to come on and add a different dynamic to the game.
When defenders legs are tiring, or Plan A isn’t working, a different option is imperative. Connor Wickham’s return doesn’t appear to be imminent so a signing in this area is needed to boost survival chances.
The other key area that needs strengthening is in goal. Both Speroni and Hennessey aren’t good enough to be starting top-flight matches. Neither instils confidence in their defence and both are constantly at risk of making a mistake.
So, Can They Do It?
If Palace are rejuvenated by the return of Benteke, pick up the required points before Christmas and make those couple of important transfers, then there may just be a glimmer of hope for the South London outfit.
The teams above them haven’t exactly shown consistent quality performances, and Palace should be buoyed by this.
Supporters won’t be holding their breath for what would be a miraculous turnaround, and the size of the task is still enormous. But it can be done.