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Crystal Palace’s season has been a tough one to read.
They sit 11th in the table ahead of the Premier League’s return, with a record of 10 wins, 9 draws and 10 defeats.
Does that equate to numbing mid-table mediocrity? Or is it the sign of a season that has seen relatively little to fret about, one that has even provided an opportunity to hope for something more come the end of the term?
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
League position: 11th
Form: L L W W W
Next three fixtures: Bournemouth (a), Liverpool (a), Burnley (h)
Cups: Knocked out of FA Cup by Derby in third round, knocked out of Carabao Cup by Colchester in second round
Player of season so far: Jordan Ayew
The latter is likely a fairer conclusion to draw, with Roy Hodgson’s Eagles having spent more time circling the Europa League spots than in the bottom half of the table.
Palace started the season in comfortable enough form, following an opening-day draw against Everton and early defeat by newly promoted Sheffield United with back-to-back wins over Manchester United and Aston Villa, then similarly following a loss to Tottenham and draw against Wolves with two more wins – this time beating Norwich and West Ham.
Their next five results – four defeats and a draw – would have been cause for concern if not for the calibre of their foes; Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Leicester were the opponents in that run, which Palace snapped with wins against Burnley and Bournemouth.
After a fairly neutral spell, there was a genuine period of frustration among fans of the club, however. Four consecutive draws – two of which came against Man City and Arsenal – were forgivable, but this time Hodgson and co. did not react with the now typical two-victory response. Instead, they lost three straight, marking a brief descent to the more hazardous territories of the top flight.
Crucially, though, Palace lifted themselves back up by mirroring their three defeats with three wins on the bounce right before the crisis stole away football for three months.
The key question is therefore how detrimental the timing of that pause will prove to be for Palace, who are four points off of a European place as things stand.
Fixtures against Man United, Leicester, Wolves and Tottenham all await and could be decisive in determining where the Eagles land come the end of gameweek 38.
Hodgson will be hopeful that Jordan Ayew – who has eight Premier League goals this term, six of them coming in matches that were won by a one-goal margin – can continue his fine season. The same will go for goalkeeper Vincente Guaita, whose stubborn presence between the posts has been integral to many of Palace’s better results this year.
And the common comment from opposing fans before any Palace game will likely be heard just as frequently as before the league’s suspension: “Palace, could be tricky. They’ve got Zaha after all.”
Palace held on to Wilfried Zaha against all odds last summer, and with the transfer window set to get awfully foggy this time around, the club may just hold onto him again.
That said, Ayew’s contributions as the side’s top scorer will see him challenge Zaha for player of the season at Selhurst Park. For all the threat that Zaha carries on the pitch, Ayew has more often than not been the one to make the incision when it’s counted for Hodgson. So, Palace’s fortunes may ultimately depend on whether or not the break has blunted their 28-year-old striker.
If Ayew picks up where he left off, a Europa League chase should not be ruled out for Crystal Palace.