Wilfried Zaha was so important to the survival chances of Crystal Palace that the Eagles were willing to leave a bid of around £70 million, made by Everton in the final days of the summer transfer window, sitting on the table. Staying in the Premier League is, after all, worth upwards of £100 million and so Palace clearly believed their top-flight place would have been in jeopardy had Zaha been sold.
On the basis of their first two league games of the season, however, their Premier League position is under threat regardless. Crystal Palace have just one solitary point to show for fixtures against Everton and Sheffield United, failing to break down the 10 men of the Toffees on opening weekend and then feebly succumbing to the newly-promoted Blades last Sunday.
Even more concerning is the Eagles’ toothlessness in front of goal, drawing a blank in each of their two outings. They haven’t even looked like scoring, with the front two of Christian Benteke and Zaha mustering just six efforts on goal compared to Sheffield United’s 15 last weekend. Zaha, the man shouldering the club’s Premier League hopes, didn’t even test Dean Henderson once.
“There is no magic wand,” a seemingly unflustered Roy Hodgson said after the defeat at Bramall Lane. “We have played 180 minutes and haven’t scored a goal, conceding one. I believe there are players in the team who are capable of scoring goals. As a coach, all you can do is show your faith in the player but it is always the player’s job to get out on the field and perform.”
Those comments from Hodgson, and the manner in which they were made, was most interesting – and revealing. The former England manager seemed at a loss to explain the problems his team is currently facing, almost as if he has resigned himself to the fate of a difficult season.
Hodgson also made an effort to detach himself from Crystal Palace’s summer business, particularly the situation concerning the future of Zaha. “His beef is with the chairman and owners of the club,” the 72-year-old reasoned once the winger’s proposed move to Everton had been spiked.
“I thought we were pretty much all on the same page, that we definitely need players, because our squad is very small,” Hodgson explained after the summer transfer window closed, once again detaching himself from those in charge of the Selhurst Park club. “I’m afraid at the moment we’re still there with the ones that started pre-season training.”
Gary Cahill arrived on a free transfer while James McCarthy was signed from Everton, but will this really be enough to consolidate Crystal Palace’s top-flight place? Keeping Zaha now looks like the right decision, but the pressure heaped on the shoulders of the Ivory Coast international to revitalise his teammates is enormous.
Palace have been in worse positions than this and lived to tell the tale. For instance, they started the 2017/18 season with four straight defeats. Frank de Boer paid for that with his job and it’s entirely feasible that Hodgson, an increasingly detached figure at Selhurst Park, follows the precedent set by the Dutchman this season.
Hodgson has performed wonders with this Crystal Palace squad, taking the club to the brink of the top half of the table in successive seasons. But there is a growing sense that the 72-year-old is no longer engaged, that he’s lost the will to fight this latest challenge. A parting of the ways might be best for both parties.
For a variety of reasons, Hodgson is a solid bet to win this season’s Premier League Sack Race. There are other contenders, most notably Steve Bruce and Javi Gracia, but the Crystal Palace manager’s words have been just as revealing as the results recorded over the past two weekends.