Crystal Palace’s 2021/22 season has come to an end. The Eagles recorded a 1-0 win against Manchester United – their first home win at Selhurst Park against the Red Devils since 1991 – thanks to Wilfried Zaha’s 37th-minute strike.
The South Londoners finished the football calendar year 12th in the Premier League and reached an FA Cup semi-final.
Here are Edmund Brack’s four takeaways from the season:
VIEIRA SETTLES IN QUICKLY BUT LEARNT ON THE JOB
Apart from the 3-0 loss against Spurs on Boxing Day, which was a chaotic scramble to piece together a side due to the Christmas Covid-19 outbreak, and the opening day loss to Chelsea, Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace have been competitive in every game this season.
While a lack of clinical consistency saw Palace fail to turn draws into wins, and early season lapses in concentration saw wins turn into frustrating late draws, the change in style has been evident throughout.
Of course, the change in style was down to the spritely squad assembled, the injury Gods favouring the side, and Conor Gallagher’s relentless pressing, but Vieira also gave the forward players the chance to express their talent.
Wilfried Zaha has produced his most clinical season in front of goal, Michael Olise has flourished on the Premier League stage, and Eberechi Eze began to show passages of his very best with the season drawing to a close.
Early-season substitutions and in-game tactics – such as bringing on James Tomkins against Arsenal, which invited pressure and led to a late equaliser – was the main early teething problem of Vieira’s Palace reign.
However, as the season has concluded, and the Frenchman has gained a comprehensive understanding of his squad, games against Southampton and Aston Villa away – where the Eagles clawed back points from losing positions – showed that Vieira has learnt during the campaign.
RECRUITMENT HAS BEEN KEY TO THIS SEASON’S SUCCESS
The trepidation heading into the season came from the short space of time Vieira had to gel together a squad assembled over the summer.
While a key backbone – Vicente Guaita, Joel Ward, Cheikhou Kouyate, Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Zaha – remained from the clearout, Palace refurbished the squad, and there were still a whole host of questions were left unanswered.
Could the new centre-back pairing of Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi build an innate understanding and complement each other’s game?
Would Tyrick Mitchell handle the pressure of being the club’s unanimous first-choice left-back?
And where would Will Hughes, Odsonne Edouard and Michael Olise fit into the side?
But everything clicked this season.
Andersen and Guehi have established themselves as the club’s best centre-back partnership of the decade. Mitchell, Guehi and Gallagher broke into the England side, and the squad depth Vieira has at his disposal has kept the competitiveness of the squad high.
While none of the three forwards found reliable consistency in front of goal, Mateta, Edouard and Benteke all played a role in contributing with goals.
And Joel Ward, Nathaniel Clyne, James McArthur and Jeffrey Schlupp have all played pivotal roles in the side.
WILFRIED ZAHA CONTINUES TO BE THE CRUX OF CRYSTAL PALACE
There is no doubt that the pressure of being the main creative spark, reliable goalscorer and one of the few ball carriers in the squad weighed heavy on Zaha’s shoulders for the past few seasons.
However, in the new system, where the pressure is solely on being clinical, he is thriving in a different way.
While he is no longer the tricky winger with a skill or two to jink past defenders, the 29-year-old is still an indispensable part of the side and the talismanic leader.
It appears that under Vieira, where he has more energy reserved for the final third, the Ivorian can focus more on his finishing – goals against Watford, Norwich, Southampton, and Manchester United were all impressive finishes.
If this is to be Wilfried Zaha’s final season at Selhurst Park, with his contract set to expire at the end of the next campaign, it should be a season of recognising the most prominent playing figure in the club’s history.
BIG SUMMER ON THE HORIZON
This upcoming window may not present the notable change required last summer, but the significance is equally essential.
With league rivals flexing their financial muscles already – Aston Villa swooping for highly-rated French midfielder Boubacar Kamara just a day after the season comes to an end – Palace have to get their recruitment right once again.
The biggest task will be replacing Conor Gallagher. Despite his goal contributions drying up in the second half of the season, his pressing, relentless running, and ability to win the ball back for the side are key components to the style of play under Vieira.
The Eagles will also have to invest in a new centre-back to replace the outgoing Martin Kelly and should be looking to bring in a replacement who is comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Clyne has also demonstrated in recent months that he deserves a new contract. Should Palace continue to show faith in the injury-plagued Nathan Ferguson, then Clyne has shown he can help take the team to the next level, ensuring there is no rush for Ferguson to return to full fitness.
With Vieira calling for Palace to raise their ambition heading into next season, they will have to be smart with their investment to ensure that they stay within touching distance of the teams above them.
MAIN PICTURE & VIERA PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD
SQUAD PICTURE: ROB AVIS