Have Crystal Palace Changed Too Much For Returning Roy Hodgson To Succeed Again?

There's been a hefty turnover of players since he left in 2021...
12:00, 21 Mar 2023

Crystal Palace have turned to the man they know best to get them out of relegation danger. Roy Hodgson, now 75, has returned for his second managerial stint at Selhurst Park, having begun his playing career in south London back in 1965. 

It’s a career that has taken him all around the world but, despite his retirement, the Eagles’ lure was too strong to resist. It’s home to the former England boss, but it is now almost two years since he was last in charge. So what’s changed at Palace in that time, and will Hodgson’s defensive methods still work around these parts with different characters in the dressing room?

Hodgson relied on a 4-4-2 system for the majority of the 2020/21 campaign, before switching to a 4-3-3 later on. Palace finished 14th, scored 2.2 more goals than their xG suggested they should have and conceded 66 when their xGA was 67.2. Their form significantly dropped at the end of the campaign, as they lost five of their final seven games in the 4-3-3 formation. 


It would appear on the surface that Hodgson is far more comfortable in a 4-4-2, but he almost exclusively used a 4-3-3 in that disastrous spell at Watford, that saw the Hornets win just twice in 18 matches under the septuagenarian. Vieira this term has also tended to set his team up in a 4-3-3, and it seems as though the players are used to this - albeit with little success in recent months. One of Hodgson's early calls will be whether to stick or twist on the formation front.

In terms of players that remain from his previous spell at Selhurst Park, the big name is Wilfried Zaha. The Ivorian hasn’t registered a goal contribution in the league since November 6 and has six goals and two assists in 23 Premier League games under Vieira so far this term. 

In his last season under Hodgson, he got 11 goals and two assists in 30 games, while in 2018/19 he hit 20 goal contributions in total. Clearly Hodgson knows how to push his buttons and understands how to get the best out of him. When Zaha is on it, Palace tend to get results and when he is disengaged, they struggle. 

Goalkeeper Vicente Guaita remains at the club, as does Ebere Eze, who played some wonderful football under Hodgson in his first season in the top flight. Now an established Premier League player, he will have to contribute more in the final third if Palace are to survive. 

Club captain Luka Milivojević was a key player for the returning boss but has fallen down the pecking order in recent years - don’t be surprised to see him come back into the fold. Joel Ward is now 33 but trusted by Hodgson, as is Jordan Ayew, also now on the wrong side of 30. 

Cheikhou Kouyaté played 36 of 38 games in Hodgson’s final season but is now at Nottingham Forest. Andros Townsend is now at Everton. Christian Benteke, Patrick van Aanholt and Gary Cahill have all been moved on. Although some key players remain, Hodgson will need to learn to love a new centre-back partnership. 

Scott Dann, Mamadou Sahko, Kouyaté and Cahill - four options he used in that position on his last visit, have all now departed. James Tomkins is the only survivor but has made only five appearances this term, and Hodgson will have to find his preferred pairing from Marc Guehi, Joachim Anderson and Chris Richards. Although clearly talented, they don’t quite fit the 'Cahill mould’ that Hodgson desires from his central defenders. 

Defending hasn’t actually been too much of an issue for Palace this term. They certainly aren’t shipping goals, having conceded 38 in 28 matches this term, fewer than nine other teams in the league this term - including Tottenham Hotspur. It is once again, attacking flair that needs to be added to this Palace side. 

With Michael Olise, Eze and Zaha, they shouldn’t be lacking in creativity, and their xG (24.8) is higher than the timid 22 goals they have managed to score this term. If Hodgson can restore the confidence into those forwards that he already has the trust of, Palace should be fine. If he can’t find the solution to that issue, and they begin to lose ground on their relegation rivals - panic of a second straight relegation for the Premier League's oldest boss could set in.

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