After lingering precariously in and around the relegation zone for most of last season Sam Allardyce did what he does best and led the Eagles to safety before retiring from football management. The board then took a month to decide that Frank de Boer was the man to lead Crystal Palace into a new era with the hope of avoiding relegation scraps in the coming years.
De Boer comes to Selhurst Park with fresh ideas and philosophies, having been a student of the Cruyff school-of-thought in both his time at Ajax and Barcelona, but the squad he’s inherited is more akin to counter-attacking football than the possession-based style de Boer prefers so it is unclear exactly how they’ll line up under the Dutchman. The first few weeks will be crucial as we assess the approach Crystal Palace will take, especially with some very favourable fixtures in their first 5 games.
STAR MAN – Wilfried Zaha (7.0m)
Last season’s top scoring Crystal Palace player will once again be key to everything they do going forward in the coming season. The criticism levelled at Zaha in recent seasons has been his lack of end product but in 2016/17 he contributed 7 goals and 11 assists, answering his critics and showing the progress he’s made as a player since leaving Man Utd. Of course, it helps that he now has a teammate in Benteke that can put the finishing touches on his crosses and create space for him to move into.
The tricky Palace winger has had to learn to work hard in his defensive duties but everyone knows that he’s most dangerous with the ball at his feet in the final third. He’ll be given freedom to express himself under his new manager and that can only be a good thing as de Boer looks to build his team around the entertaining Ivory Coast international. His flicks and tricks turn defenders inside-out and since he’s added that final ball to his game he’s a genuine FPL option. Zaha will be looking to build on last season’s output under the guidance of his new manager, who has already spoken about how highly he rates him and how essential he’s going to be in his plans for the coming season. If he gets off to a strong start, he could be essential to our FPL plans too.
HIDDEN GEM – Luka Milivojevic (5.0m)
Milivojevic arrived as part of Sam Allardyce’s January spending spree and added some much needed leadership and defensive solidity in front of the back four, something Palace had been missing since the departure of ex-captain Jedinak to Aston Villa. The Serb offered the Eagles a solid foundation on which to build attacks whilst his presence allowed the forward players the security they needed to express themselves and ultimately preserve their Premier League status for another year.
Traditionally, defensive midfielders don’t offer much in terms of fantasy football value. However, since joining Palace, Milivojevic has been handed penalty-taking duties and managed to bag himself 2 goals in his 14 appearances. With flamboyant wingers Zaha and Townsend in the team he’s likely to get a few penalties throughout the season so as long as de Boer trusts him with spot-kicks he could surprise a few people at such a low price. In addition to this, prior to his move to Palace, Milivojevic had played 17 league games for Olympiacos in the first part of last season and managed to contribute 6 goals, an impressive record that most attacking players would be happy with. If this wasn’t a fluke and he’s still on penalty duties Milivojevic could prove to be a surprise package this season.
BARGAIN – Ruben Loftus-Cheek (4.5m)
Ruben Loftus-Cheek became Frank de Boer’s first signing since taking the helm at Selhurst Park when he signed on loan from Chelsea in the middle of July. The young midfielder was limited to just 6 Premier League appearances for the Blues last season, all coming from the substitute’s bench, as Chelsea strolled to the title. With the likely arrival of further additions in the midfield area and the already high competition for places that meant even Fabregas struggled for starts, Loftus-Cheek moved to Crystal Palace looking for more game time and a chance to prove himself. More will become clear as pre-season develops but we assume that the young English midfielder has been given assurances of playing time and this can only be a good thing for us as he has been priced in the cheapest midfield category of just £4.5m, becoming an excellent enabler in our midfields if he’s playing regularly.
One of Loftus-Cheek’s greatest attributes is his versatility, and where he lines up in the Palace team will determine how successful he is from a fantasy football perspective. Growing up in the Chelsea academy he played as a holding midfielder but more recently he’s been deployed as a number 10 for both England (U21s) and Chelsea. He’s even been situated out wide or as a false nine on occasions, showing that managers have recognised his ability to contribute in the final third. Frank de Boer commented that he’s an attacking midfielder so we’d expect him to line up further forward initially, possibly in the hole behind Benteke or as part of a 3-man midfield with instructions to carry the ball forward. His goalscoring record for Chelsea is far from impressive but he managed 13 goals in 27 games whilst playing further forward for the England U19s and U21s, which shows he knows where the goal is. With an ownership of over 15% in early FPL drafts, the Chelsea loanee is proving to be a popular pick and if he nails down an advanced role for Crystal Palace he could offer incredible value, especially given the Eagle’s early run of fixtures.
PREDICTED LINE UP
Ward – Tomkins – Dann – van Aanholt
Cabaye – Milivojevic
Zaha – Puncheon – Townsend
If you have enjoyed this early view of the fantasy potential of AFC Bournemouth, be sure to check the other teams here.
Written by Dan Bright (@dbright_14)