Crystal Palace season preview: Much will depend on Wilfried Zaha

Crystal Palace are gearing up for a sixth consecutive season in the Premier League, but can they build on the success of last season?

Last season: 11th
Title odds: 1000/1
Relegation odds: 6/1
Major ins: Cheikh Kouyate, Max Meyer
Major outs: Yohan Cabaye
Key player: Wilfried Zaha

“The chairman has made it clear to me that, certainly this next season, it is all about survival again,” said Roy Hodgson.

It was only two months since he guided Crystal Palace to an 11th-placed Premier League finish, but optimism about the campaign ahead was in short supply as the Eagles prepared to begin their pre-season schedule with a friendly game in Sweden back in July.

It was a deflating message for supporters to hear, but Hodgson was entitled to feel a little apprehensive. Palace’s only signing at the time was goalkeeper Vicente Guaita, a free transfer from Getafe. And with Yohan Cabaye, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Timothy Fosu-Mensah all gone, their squad looked weaker than it did at the end of the previous campaign.

Thankfully for Hodgson, there has been some belated movement in the transfer market since then. Cheikhou Kouyate arrived from West Ham to provide another midfield option, then there was the exciting addition of free agent Max Meyer. The 22-year-old playmaker, long regarded as one Germany’s most exciting prospect, has signed a three-year contract at Selhurst Park.

The Zaha factor

Meyer is the kind of player who can get fans off their feet, but much will depend on what happens with Wilfried Zaha. The Ivorian enjoyed the best season of his career last season, scoring nine goals and providing three assists in 29 Premier League games, but he is now a target for Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton and his future is uncertain.

Palace will be desperate to fend off his suitors and it is easy to understand why. Zaha is a talismanic figure whose importance to the side cannot be understated. Last season, they lost all 10 of the Premier League games he missed through injury. It does not bode well for what the future may hold without him.

For now, though, Zaha remains a Palace player. If he stays and Palace continue their recent efforts to strengthen the squad, the Eagles can strive to build on last season’s progress. If not, however, Hodgson may find himself feeling gloomy again.

Charlie Nicholas’ verdict

Keeping Wilfried Zaha is as big as it gets for Crystal Palace because they won’t find better than him. They might be looking to trade out Christian Benteke for another attacking option, while they should also have Connor Wickham fit for the new season. I honestly don’t see them struggling in the relegation battle. They should be aiming towards the top half.

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