A year at Crystal Palace is generally never short of drama and 2017 was no different. The Eagles began the year with Sam Allardyce in charge following the sacking of Alan Pardew in December 2016. The former England manager guided Palace to survival despite a poor start, but then surprisingly departed in May.
Frank de Boer replaced Allardyce but off-field issues caused interferences on the pitch and he was subsequently sacked after just four league games. The South Londoners’ only victory under the Dutchman came in the League Cup, while they ceased to score a Premier League goal during his stewardship.
Roy Hodgson is now in charge and has settled a squad that was confidence-stricken and tactically confused during de Boer’s brief tenure. The Eagles’ second former England manager in 2017 has simplified Palace’s approach to games and they are reaping the rewards.
An impressive draw against runaway champions Manchester City, becoming just the second team to take points from the Citizens this season, meant Palace finished the year with just one defeat in their final ten games of the year. But that is not a completely fair reflection of the South Londoners' form in 2017.
January was a terrible month for the Eagles. They began the year with a defeat to Arsenal on New Year’s Day and then disappointingly lost at home to fellow relegation rivals Swansea City at Selhurst Park. Allardyce’s first win as Palace boss came in the FA Cup against his former club, Bolton Wanderers, but they were knocked out of the competition later that month by Man City. Two more defeats followed until Allardyce earned his first three points thanks to a 2-0 win at AFC Bournemouth – the same day Palace secured the signings of Luka Milivojevic and Mamadou Sakho who would both impress in the remaining months of the season.
The victory over the Cherries gave Palace fans a blind sense of optimism. It seemed Allardyce had turned things around and the Eagles were heading up the table. However, they came crashing back down to earth just four days later as Sunderland thrashed Palace 4-0 at Selhurst, with all four goals coming in the first half as many fans left the ground at half-time. The only positive was that it was the lowest point the club would reach for the rest of the season. A defeat at Stoke City followed but Palace’s form then improved. A four-game winning run, including a magnificent 2-1 victory at Chelsea, moved them up the table and away from the relegation zone, but that was followed by a 3-1 defeat at Southampton.
Incredible wins at home against Arsenal and then away to Liverpool in mid-April – sandwiched between a draw against Leicester City – almost certainly secured survival, but Palace would win just once more before the end of the season.
Tottenham Hotspur, Burnley and Man City recorded victories against Palace which meant relegation to the Championship was still mathematically possible. A 4-0 success at home to Hull City in the penultimate game, though, ensured Premier League football for the following season whilst relegating the Tigers.
Allardyce resigned after a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on the final day and was replaced by de Boer following a thorough appointment process by Steve Parish. However, the former legendary former Netherlands defender lasted just four league games, the first of which was a 3-0 drubbing at home to newly-promoted Huddersfield Town, before then losing against Liverpool, Swansea and Burnley.
Hodgson replaced de Boer but lost his first game against Southampton, before travelling to Manchester twice in a week – conceding nine across the two matches and still failing to score. The record-breaking bad start – seven defeats and no goals – seemed destined to continue with Chelsea visiting Selhurst next, but Palace executed a fantastic 2-1 victory, inspired by the returning Wilfried Zaha’s excellent performance. Zaha then earned Palace’s next point with a 97th minute equaliser against West Ham United before a narrow reverse at Tottenham.
A 2-2 draw at home to Everton then sparked an eight-game unbeaten run, including victories against Stoke, Watford and a stunning 3-0 win at Leicester. The first A23 derby against Brighton & Hove Albion in over four years ended goalless at the Amex Stadium.
The Eagles could only draw with Swansea two days before Christmas before losing to Arsenal, but a draw against Man City was an excellent way to end a difficult year.
Palace go into 2018 a place and a point above the relegation zone.
There are very few contenders for this accolade other than Zaha. The winger was Palace’s best player under Allardyce, flourishing in a system that afforded him more freedom. Under Hodgson, the Ivorian has played a more central role with Christian Benteke and found the net four times already this season, adding to the four he scored in the second half of last campaign.
While Zaha has provided Palace’s best attacking performances, January signings Milivojevic and Sakho have been just as important defensively. The Eagles had been desperate for a replacement for Mile Jedinak, the defensive midfielder who departed Selhurst for Aston Villa in summer 2016. The midfield was one of Palace’s weakest areas in the first half of 2016/17, but Milivojevic changed that, adding solidity in front of the back four, which had been improved by the addition of Sakho from Liverpool.
Benteke would have an argument for topping this category if it was only based on January to May. The striker’s nine goals in all competitions under Allardyce were a key reason behind Palace’s survival but the Belgian has failed to continue that form into the new season.
Most disappointing player
While there were few stand-out candidates for the best player last year, a couple more individuals disappointed in a Palace shirt.
Jairo Riedewald's albeit brief spell in south London has disappointed, not necessarily because he is a bad player, but instead because he has struggled for game time despite appearing to be a promising player. He arrived at Palace with plenty of hype having been part of the Ajax side that reached the Europa League final last season, losing 2-0 to Man United.
The 21-year-old was actually one of the better players under de Boer; a technically gifted defender but his physical attributes were exposed in the defeat to Huddersfield. Riedewald played on the left of a back three in his only Premier League start under the Dutchman but has since found himself on the bench, playing predominantly for the under-23s and clearly not fancied by Hodgson, only starting once more in the draw against Man City. With age on his side, however, he could still forge a successful career at Selhurst.
A perhaps slightly controversial inclusion, Patrick van Aanholt has failed to claim a regular place in the Palace side, despite costing £14 million in January. The Dutch full-back did okay under Allardyce, but has been poor this season and lost his place in the side to fellow January signing Jeffrey Schlupp towards the end of the year.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah has also found himself in a similar predicament to the one Riedewald is currently in. signed by de Boer, the defender was good during the Dutchman’s short spell but is now behind Joel Ward in the race to be Palace’s first-choice right-back. There was even talk of his loan from Man United being terminated to free a spot for a temporary striker.
Benteke could also find himself in this category, dependent on whether Palace fans’ glasses are half full or half empty, given his lack of productivity this season. The 27-year-old has scored just once since August, netting the first in the 3-0 win against Leicester earlier last month.
Best moment of the year
2017 was not great for Palace but there were still several memorable moments. The best was probably the victory against Arsenal in April, a complete shock. The Eagles dominated the Gunners and could have won by more than just the three. The two victories against Chelsea come close, while James McArthur’s stoppage-time winning goal against Watford in December was also unforgettable.
What to expect in 2018
It is extremely difficult to 'expect' anything at Palace. The Eagles could quite easily suffer relegation in May but could also proceed in having a fine run similar to last season’s, which could see them finish in mid-table. Hodgson will rely on being given a big transfer budget this month to strengthen his squad.
If Palace do go down, supporters will demand a strong start to next season’s Championship campaign with a return to the top-flight at the first time of asking an expectation. If the Eagles stay up, a busy summer will be needed to ensure the squad is far stronger than it is at present.
Palace’s toughest test will be keeping Zaha at the club as interest will surface for the Ivorian international in both windows. It is unlikely that Palace will in January, but a bid in excess of £50 million in the summer will be difficult to turn down. If he does eventually leave, a replacement of similar quality will be required.