Just over a calendar month into the season, Crystal Palace have given us the first manager casualty of the season. Frank de Boer, in charge for just 79 days, is available; take note Sunday Morning football captains. The Dutch manager lost all four games of his tenure and the team failed to score a single goal. The powers that be at Selhurst Park cut ties (very) early, before it could get any worse.
As it relates to fantasy, de Boer’s impact looked similar to that on the field. Only Andros Townsend has played to his preseason rank and even he has put up less impressive numbers than last season. But, as previous seasons have shown, there is hope for the Eagles. It’s not exactly a rarity to see Palace in early season trouble, and that means there’s a decent blueprint to keep them afloat. “Afloat” is all you need to be relevant in fantasy.
As of this writing, widespread reports claim that former England Manager Roy Hodgson will be taking over as manager. Hodgson, while not the most inspiring choice of successor, does have experience righting the ship. He saved both Fulham and West Brom from relegation in the last decade.
Likely the first fix will be defensively. Scott Dann had a very good performance at Burnley, even if he did blow the game in the final minutes. Palace were actually very solid in defense at Turf Moor, allowing only 4 total shots. With the exception of the goal (stemming from a horrible backpass), Burnley had few opportunities. This bodes well for the Eagles future. In recent history, the addition of Mamadou Sakho into the mix as a center-back has helped Palace lock things down. Sakho recently played 45 minutes for the Eagles under-23 team. He looks likely to return to the squad soon.
Once Dann and Sakho are together in defense, I think they’ll both be useful fantasy assets, probably ranking somewhere in the 30 to 40 range for the rest of the season among defenders. As for the fullbacks, I can’t see Jeffrey Schlupp continuing to receive minutes. Except for his pace, he offers very little; Patrick van Aanholt is altogether a much better choice and I think that everyone knows that. Expect van Aanholt to begin producing as he did towards the tail end of last season (that makes him a top 30 defender in all likelihood).
I expect to see Luka Milivojevic inserted back into the midfield as well. It seemed that his relationship with de Boer was not the best – open criticism of tactics gives that impression to people. Milivojevic was one of the most important reasons for Palace’s late season surge last season. While I don’t expect him to be a major fantasy asset, I do think he’ll open things up for other midfielders.
Yohan Cabaye put in a major shift at the weekend. Cabaye might as well have “Fantasy Enigma” tattooed on his forehead, but he has shown periods of high value in the past. If you’re looking for a potential high-reward pickup, look towards the Frenchman. You’ll likely know whether he’s going to produce based on playing time in the next few weeks. If he’s not playing, feel free to drop him.
As we work slowly towards the front, we confront the high-value members of the team. I mentioned earlier that Andros Townsend has played well so far, but still below the bar he set last season. I don’t expect Townsend to lose his place in a depleted corps of wingers, so continue hoping that one of those cut-in left footed strikes goes in. Wilfried Zaha is currently injured, so his value doesn’t change much.
As for the big attraction up front, Christian Benteke has to see his value rise. He put in some damned good performances for Big Sam last season and he has a skill set uniquely suited for a team that doesn’t take well to expansive, creative football. I expect Hodgson’s first games to be full of crosses for “The Belgian Forehead” (nickname pending) until he can settle the team into a more disciplined game out of the midfield. Now is the time to buy on Christian Benteke; he might not be a top-10 forward this year, but he’ll definitely be in the top 20.
I expect Hodgson to stabilize Palace and finish somewhere in the 13-16 range, just like last year. There haven’t really been any improvements in the team, but no real personnel losses either. It’s hard for me to believe that a team could drop of the map without some young, Dutch, free-thinker’s help. Roy Hodgson is none of those. They’ll play typical, hard-nosed English football, and that plays well in the Premier League, even if it doesn’t look great.