Former Nice head coach and Premier League legend, Patrick Vieira, is set to take charge of his first competitive game as Crystal Palace manager this Saturday as the Premier League kicks off it's opening round of fixtures.
Vieira’s side will make the short trip across London to face Thomas Tuchel’s high-flying Chelsea team, who won’t be short of confidence after adding the UEFA Super Cup to their recent Champions League triumph last night.
Goalkeeper – Vincente Guaita – Between the sticks, it is a relatively undisputed position for Crystal Palace, with Vincente Guaita becoming one of the first names on the team sheet since his arrival from Getafe back in February 2018. The Spaniard has impressed in his two and half seasons in South London, being named Player of the Season in the club’s 2020/21 campaign.
The Eagles did sign former England international Jack Butland last October from Stoke City and recently announced the addition of Remi Matthews from Sunderland this summer as a third choice in the net. However, there’s no disputing who the number one is at Selhurst Park and Patrick Vieira will be hoping Guaita can replicate last season’s form again.
Right-back – Nathaniel Clyne – At right-back, the decision isn’t quite as straightforward, with the long-serving Joel Ward now competing for the starting spot. Meanwhile, former player and product of the Palace academy, Nathaniel Clyne, is also in contention to start - with whom Ward replaced in 2012.
The two shared the right-back role during pre-season, with Clyne starting one more game - hence why the Englishman should be set to start against Chelsea on Saturday.
London-born, Nathan Ferguson, who joined the Eagles last summer from West Bromwich Albion, would also be an option in that position. However, an Achilles injury will, unfortunately, rule the 20-year-old out of the opening weekend and beyond.
Centre backs – Marc Guehi and James Tomkins – Centre back has been an area of interest in SE25 this summer with Palace being forced into spending a combined £40m on Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen to strengthen the position following the departures of experienced defenders Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann and Gary Cahill.
Guehi arrived for approximately £20m from Chelsea last month, coming off the back of a very successful loan spell at Championship side Swansea City. A few weeks later, Joachim Andersen, who was involved in the Danish squad that reached the semi-finals of EURO 2020, walked through the doors at Selhurst Park.
Similar to Guehi, Andersen arrived for roughly £20m. And despite being bought from Olympique Lyonnais, the Dane had most recently impressed on loan at the heart of Fulham’s defence in the Premier League last season.
With Andersen only recently joining up to train with the first-team squad due to COVID-19 travel isolation laws, it would be surprising if Vieira threw him in at the deep end this weekend. He could instead opt for the experienced head of James Tomkins, who is now entering his sixth season with the Eagles following his switch from London rivals, West Ham, in 2016. Tomkins started all but one of Palace’s pre-season fixtures, and so would be a sensible and safe option for Vieira’s first competitive game in charge.
Left-back - Tyrick Mitchell – The left side of the defence is a more straightforward decision for the new Palace boss with highly regarded academy graduate Tyrick Mitchell being the only natural, senior option in that position following the departure of fan favourite Patrick Van Aanholt who joined Galatasaray at the end of July.
Mitchell, who has drawn comparisons to former Palace player and fellow academy graduate Aaron Wan Bissaka, started all but one of the five pre-season runouts - with the exception being when Jaïro Riedewald filled in at the back in their friendly against Charlton Athletic. Riedewald could be another option, but it would mean playing the Dutchman out of his preferred position in central midfield.
Vieira has set his side up with a midfield three in all of his games as Crystal Palace manager so far, choosing to have one of the three sat slightly deeper, affording the other two more freedom and license to progress forward.
Defensive Midfielder - Cheikhou Kouyaté – Another former West ham player, Kouyaté has become a regular fixture since arriving at the club, with the Senegalese international’s versatility and ability to play centre back or in midfield a key attribute. Kouyaté has played both roles in pre-season, although his anchoring presence in midfield could prove very beneficial against a possession-based, physical Chelsea side.
Central Midfielders – Jaïro Riedewald and James McArthur – Just ahead of Kouyaté, the pairing of Riedewald and McArthur can offer dynamism and work rate and provide a nice balance to the midfield three.
McArthur, now 33 and remarkably entering his 8th campaign at the club, was hugely impressive in Palace’s preseason, with dominating displays in midfield - leaving Vieira with little choice other than to reward his fine form with a start on Saturday. Credit must also be given to McArthur, who has recently recovered from an injury that saw him miss over half of last season.
24-year-old Jaïro Riedewald could make up the midfield three. A product of the illustrious Ajax academy, Riedewald had struggled to find consistency and make his mark at the club initially. But last season was a real turning point for the Dutchman, as he became a key player in the Crystal Palace side, making 33 league appearances.
In a recent video on Crystal Palace’s YouTube channel, defenders Tyrick Mitchell and Nathan Ferguson agreed that Riedewald is the toughest player to face in training. Ferguson stated: “Jaïro can play ball. He’s hard to tackle because he can just dribble past you.”
New loanee signing, Conor Gallagher, would usually be an exciting, younger option in the middle, but he will likely be unavailable to play against his parent club in Chelsea.
Left-Wing – Wilfred Zaha – One of their own and a regular for the Eagles since his return to the club in 2014, Zaha has earned the status as Palace’s star man, and it’s understandable to see why; topping the charts for combined goals and assists in three of the last five seasons.
He’s paramount to Palace and once again he showed his quality in pre-season scoring in both of the opening two fixtures. Zaha boasted his highest goals return for his boyhood club last season, reaching 11 league goals, a tally Vieira will be hoping he can repeat or better this term.
Striker – Jean-Philippe Mateta – It was a hugely testing first season in English football for Mateta, who is still on loan from Bundesliga side, 1. FSV Mainz 05. An exciting acquisition when he first arrived in South London, but he failed to find consistency in his first season and struggled to adapt with the highlight of his campaign, undoubtedly being an elegant, improvised winner against fierce rivals, Brighton and Hove Albion.
Mateta’s struggles continued into pre-season, but he did get a confidence boost when he converted from the spot, and Vieira will be keen for his French compatriot to kick on this season.
Right-Wing – Jordan Ayew – The Ghanaian’s role in SE25 has somewhat changed since he joined the club from Swansea on summer deadline day in 2018, initially on a season loan. Ayew, at first, operated as a central striker before becoming half of a prolific strike partnership with Christian Benteke, who will likely make an appearance off the bench on Saturday.
After a stuttering first season in red and blue, Ayew excelled in the 2019/20 campaign, netting nine league goals - his second-highest career tally. Last season, under former Palace boss Roy Hodgson, Ayew was moved out to the right, providing a different option from out wide and an extra goal threat for the Eagles.