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Three key battles ahead of Crystal Palace’s opener against Huddersfield

Philip Marsh

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace and Huddersfield will both walk out at Selhurst Park on Saturday believing opening day victory is possible.

The Eagles couldn’t have asked for an easier opening game on paper. A home fixture against the Championship’s play-off winners from last season is a perfect opportunity for three points.

However, the Terriers will not go into the game fearing their opponents. Palace are not one of the division’s so-called “big boys” and they managed just two home wins in 13 attempts at the start of last season.

This year the Eagles have a new man in charge. The fixture against Huddersfield will be Frank de Boer’s first competitive fixture as Palace manager, and he’ll be keen to make the best possible first impression.

In the opposite dugout will be Huddersfield’s David Wagner. The charismatic German led his side to play-off glory just three months ago and will relish his first taste of top-flight management.

The two managers will face their very own tactical showdown on the sideline, but on the pitch there will be battles covering every blade of grass.

Of these, there are three key battles which will have a big influence on who leaves South London victorious.

Riedewald vs Mounie

Two new signings, both with bright futures, make their competitive debuts for the respective clubs on Saturday.

Jaïro Riedewald signed for the Eagles from Ajax in July for an undisclosed fee. The 20-year old is expected to go straight in as de Boer’s first-choice centre-back. The defender already has three caps for The Netherlands under his belt and will be an exciting player to follow this season.

His first job in the red and blue of Crystal Palace will be to keep Steve Mounie quiet.

The Beninese international signed for the Terriers for a club-record fee and big things are expected of the striker. The 22-year old has 25 goals in 69 league games out in France whilst playing for Montpellier and Nimes, including 14 last season.

The winner of this battle could well decide the winner of the match. If Riedewald can stop Mounie finding the back of the net it will go a long way to helping Palace secure victory. However, if Mounie can bag a goal or two Huddersfield will be in a great position to open their season with a win.

Loftus-Cheek vs Mooy

Perhaps the most important battle at Selhurst Park on Saturday will happen in the middle of the park. For this key battle, two more signings go head to head, though Aaron Mooy did spent last season on-loan at Huddersfield.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek signed a season-long loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea this summer and the midfielder will be hoping for an impressive campaign. Loftus-Cheek may still have a future at Chelsea and in an England international shirt but for now he must wait.

The 6ft 3in midfielder is a big presence in midfield and stands almost half a foot taller than Mooy, but that won’t phase the Australian international.

The Terriers’ midfielder made 45 appearances for the club last season whilst on loan from Manchester City. He impressed so much last season that Wagner convinced the board to fork out £8million for the 26-year old.

Neither player is afraid of a tackle and both look to control the game for their team, but in this head-to-head only one will finish the 90 minutes victorious.

Benteke vs Hefele

The final battle will be one Palace need to win if they are to cruise to victory.

Christian Benteke and Michael Hefele have spent a single season settling in at their respective clubs. Both were mightily impressive last year and will be hoping to avoid second-season syndrome for their team.

The Belgian striker scored 10 goals more than any other Eagles’ player last season and at times single-handedly kept Palace away from danger.

Hefele, as well as being a rock at the back, contributed at the other end. From centre-back the German scored five goals last season making him the Terriers joint-third top scorer.

However, Hefele is now in the Premier League, and the strikers bearing down on him will be that much better. Aguero, Kane and Lukaku are just some of the top-class players he will have to contend with in the next few months.

His first task though will be to handle Benteke. If the Belgian international gets his way the game could be over before its started.

Philip is a Computer Science graduate with a Masters in Journalism. He supports his home-town club Cardiff City but enjoys watching any game he can. You can find Philip on Twitter @PhilipTSMarsh.

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha should resist move away from Selhurst Park

The Ivorian winger has been key for the Eagles this season.

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Wilfried Zaha
Photo: Getty Images

Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha delivered yet another superb performance this weekend, scoring a crucial brace in Palace’s 3-2 win against Brighton.

In typical fashion, following his impressive showing, many have speculated that Zaha is far too good for this Palace team and should depart Selhurst Park in the summer.

However, Zaha should resist such urges and remain at Palace, where he will shine in the spotlight as their main man and bring top-half success to the Eagles.

The most recent rumours in the Times have linked the Ivorian with a switch to Tottenham Hotspur, but his 2013 transfer to Manchester United should prove a convincing deterrent against the move to north London.

Five years ago, Zaha swapped Palace for the allure of United, eager to become a star for the Red Devils. He signed a five-and-a-half-year deal at Old Trafford, but his time in Manchester was an abject failure.

The winger only made two league appearances for United, registering zero goals, before falling out of favour with David Moyes and being loaned out to Cardiff City. Just a season later, he was back at Crystal Palace.

(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

This big money debacle reveals that Zaha struggles when inserted into a situation where he is not a guaranteed starter. His game thrives off of confidence, trickery, and flair; it is no coincidence his best years have come at Palace, a club that genuinely loves and appreciates him.

And, it seems the feeling is mutual.

Zaha prominently spoke this week about his intense desire to beat Brighton and silence their supporters, illustrating the winger’s cult status and loyalty to the Eagles.

For the 25-year-old, the perfect decision would be to remain at Selhurst Park this summer. Roy Hodgson will be given funds to shape the team in his image, and could easily reproduce his success at Fulham, where he inspired the Whites to a seventh-placed finish and a Europa League final.

With Zaha leading the way as the star man, the ceiling could be the limit next season for the Eagles.

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Could Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic be the perfect man for Crystal Palace?

The Croatian striker scored twice in Juventus’ Champions League win over Real Madrid.

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Mario Mandzukic
Photo: Getty Images

31-year-old Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic turned back the clock on Wednesday night with a remarkable two-goal display against defending European champions Real Madrid.

If Crystal Palace maintain their Premier League status, then Mandzukic could prove the perfect man to solve their striker problems.

In the days leading up to the match, reports in Italian outlet Tuttosport, as referenced by Football Italia and Goal in Germanyhad linked the Croatian striker with a transfer to the Chinese Super League, claiming that Juventus were prepared to let him leave in the summer.

Yet the experienced striker has shown he still possesses the quality to perform at the highest level, evidenced by his dominating quarterfinal display. Two first-half towering headers revealed the forward’s predatory instincts, ability to latch on to crosses, and knack for powerful finishes.

A move to China, in essence still a glorified amateur league, would represent a dramatic step down for Mandzukic far too soon in his career. Only in his early 30s, the striker still has a number of productive seasons left in the tank and can adapt his game to accommodate his age.

Mario Mandzukic

His arrival at Selhurst Park would fill the gap that the Eagles have had at centre-forward for a number of years. The misfiring Christian Benteke has failed to impress this term, passing up many a golden opportunity.

Mandzukic would add a lethal touch to the multitude of crosses Roy Hodgson’s side tend to swing in, benefiting from Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha’s wicked deliveries.

Although the transfer may appear ridiculous, to begin with, Palace have a proud recent history of signing players from Europe’s top clubs. Yohan Cabaye joined from Paris Saint Germain, Mamadou Sakho and Benteke joined from Liverpool, and Jairo Riedewald was brought in from Ajax.

The acquisition of Mandzukic would be a brilliant coup for the Eagles and propel them to the upper half of the table next season.

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£28 million difference, but Crystal Palace would much prefer Glenn Murray

Christian Benteke has flopped at Crystal Palace this season, with just two goals compared to Murray’s 13 with Brighton.

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Crystal Palace suffered defeat at the hands of Liverpool in the Premier League yesterday, in what was a tight affair. A late goal from Mohamed Salah proved the difference, as Liverpool claimed a 2-1 victory. If only a former Liverpool player could have had a better day at the office, Palace might have taken all three points.

Christian Benteke’s poor form continued for the Eagles. He missed two golden opportunities to score in a game where the margins were considerably fine. The exasperation in team-mate Wilfried Zaha’s face made it clear what he felt of the Belgian’s wastefulness.

Palace fans are probably wishing they had a much less heralded and much cheaper former striker up front instead of Benteke.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND – MARCH 04: Glenn Murray of Brighton and Hove Albion during the Premier League match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Arsenal at Amex Stadium on March 4, 2018 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Whilst yesterday was not his best day, Glenn Murray has been outstanding for rivals Brighton and Hove Albion this season. The 34-year-old has scored 13 goals in 34 games for the Seagulls this season. Benteke meanwhile has just two in 26 – an abysmal record for a striker with his price-tag.

Palace paid a fee in the region of £32 million to bring the Belgian to Selhurst Park back in 2016, as reported by Sky Sports. A year previously Palace had sold Murray to Bournemouth in a £4 million deal, according to BBC Sport. A difference of £28 million which, quite frankly, is laughable considering the comparable seasons of the pair.

Looking back with hindsight it is easy to see that Palace should have kept hold of Murray that summer. Now back with Brighton he has been a phenomenon this season whilst Benteke, at times, has been a phantom.

during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on March 31, 2018 in London, England.

If Palace had the chance to trade them right now for the relegation run-in, make no mistake, the £32 million striker would be sent packing his bags down the M23 to Sussex.

Palace need the Belgian to start firing if they are going to survive an extremely tight looking relegation battle in the Premier League. He does not need to look far for inspiration. If Benteke can find anything near the form Murray has exhibited this campaign, then Palace will have no trouble staying up whatsoever.

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