With the appointment of Frank de Boer as manager, Crystal Palace supporters will be hoping for stability following an uncomfortable season, both on and off the pitch.
Despite spending big 12 months ago – including a club-record £32 million on striker Christian Benteke from Liverpool – the Eagles failed to soar, flirting with Premier League relegation before finishing in 14th spot.
Alan Pardew had begun the campaign in the hot-seat before being sacked last December after a dreadful calendar year of results. His replacement, former England boss Sam Allardyce, kept the club in the top-flight only to resign and apparently announce his retirement just days after the season concluded.
The off-field uncertainty is reflected in Palace’s relative inactivity in the transfer market this summer. Thus far, they have only signed defender Jairo Riedewald from Ajax, with French goalkeeper Steve Mandanda departing for Marseille. De Boer will doubtless have more targets in mind, as he looks to stamp his identity on the squad, but time is running out with the season just days away.
Ideally, managers want to conclude their transfer business at the earliest opportunity to facilitate the new arrivals’ integration. Due to the timing of his arrival, de Boer has not been afforded that opportunity.
On paper, Palace have an abundance of attacking talent in their squad and it will be fascinating to see how de Boer utilises it. Once again, Benteke is sure to be their main goalscoring threat. The imposing Belgian scored 15 Premier League goals last term but, considering his hefty price-tag, he must look to improve on that figure. Wilfried Zaha is another player of whom big things are expected.
On his day, the tricky winger is close to unplayable and there were signs last season that his performances are becoming more consistent. Zaha certainly has all the attributes to become a key player for de Boer. With forgotten England man Andros Townsend on the opposite flank, goalscoring opportunities should not be in short supply.
Palace were extremely weak defensively last season, conceding 63 goals which undermined their hopes of climbing the table. It was an issue that plagued Pardew’s reign and although Allardyce brought in reinforcements last January in an attempt to stem the flow, much more work needs to be done.
Having a former international defender of De Boer’s pedigree in charge can only improve them in that area of the pitch. A solid, stable base is essential to enable the side’s gifted forward players like Benteke and Zaha the scope to express themselves.
If Palace supporters had been asked what fixture they’d want for the opening day of the campaign, then a clash against newly promoted Huddersfield Town at Selhurst Park would probably have been top of the list. They will hope to avoid a repeat of the sluggish start they suffered last season, from which they never really recovered.
Often the first few matches set the tone for what is to come. Palace are an ambitious club with aspirations of contending for a European place. But after a forgettable campaign for the south London club, now is the time to prove that’s where they belong.