What was the situation like when the league was suspended on 13 March? The 1-0 victory against Watford courtesy of Jordan Ayew’s winner at Selhurst Park just before the enforced break was Palace’s third in succession over clubs in the lower half of the table and has virtually assured survival for Roy Hodgson’s side already. Having looked in danger of being dragged into a relegation dogfight after some indifferent performances in January and most of February, beating Newcastle at home before the win at the Amex Stadium against rivals Brighton ensured Palace should already have enough of a cushion over the bottom three. Only Norwich have scored fewer goals but with nine clean sheets and only 32 conceded, solidity is the hallmark of Hodgson’s team.
What about now? After facing Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on 20 June – which will be the first Premier League match to be broadcast on terrestrial television – Palace face a daunting run of fixtures that will see them meet only one more side not presently in the top half of the table. They still have to travel to Liverpool, Leicester and Wolves, not to mention home fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham on the final day which may put paid to their chances of surpassing 2014-15’s 10th place – the club’s highest Premier League finish. At least Hodgson will have a full squad to choose from as he attempts to navigate the choppy waters. Even Mamadou Sakho has been back in training having missed the majority of the season because of injury. The France defender is one of Palace’s highest earners and has only a year left on his contract at Selhurst Park with the Lyon president, Jean-Michel Aulas, saying he “has the right personality” after being linked with a move to the Ligue 1 club a few weeks ago.
What needs to be done to have a successful end to the season? Palace supporters have been starved of excitement in their home matches all season having seen their team score only 12 goals in 15 matches but with such a tricky run-in it is hard to see that tally increasing much. The superb form of Ayew has made up for Wilfried Zaha’s least effective season for some time, although the Ivory Coast forward remains Palace’s most potent attacking threat. Finding an effective combination with Christian Benteke remains the biggest challenge for their 72-year-old manager, who signed a new one-year contract the day before the win against Watford on 7 March.
Have players and staff behaved during lockdown? There were no indiscretions by any of Palace’s squad with several players praising the club’s efforts to keep them informed before they returned to training. Staff also made efforts to check on more than 1,000 supporters over the age of 70 to see if they could provide any assistance, including going shopping for some season ticket holders.
Any unsung/community heroes? Zaha and his business partner Obi Williams have provided free accommodation for 50 NHS workers during the pandemic through their company Zo Properties, while the entire squad contributed a significant donation to Age UK Croydon and Selhurst Park was used as a refreshment base for ambulance workers. Chefs made more 6,000 meals for NHS staff and vulnerable people, while the Palace for Life foundation took its mentoring initiatives for disadvantaged young people in south London online in an attempt to ease the mental health challenges of lockdown. Patrick van Aanholt, meanwhile, took on Twitter troll Katie Hopkins after she dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement and told the Dutchman to “kneel and kiss her ring”. “As for your ring you are welcome to come to Selhurst and kiss my big toe … I’ll wait,” he responded.
Key player in the run-in? Two years since he joined from Getafe on a free transfer, Vicente Guaita has firmly established himself as Palace’s No 1 thanks to some brilliant performances this season. That the Spaniard’s only big mistake in 28 matches so far came in the defeat to Sheffield United in February is testament to his ability, with boyhood club Valencia reported to be interested in bringing him home this summer. The 33-year-old looks equipped to play at the highest level and will certainly have plenty of opportunities to shine against some of the Premier League’s best attacks over the next few weeks.
End-of-season-prediction 12th. Points will be hard to come by but beating last season’s mark of 49 – Palace’s highest in the Premier League – could be attainable if they can continue where they left off.
Remaining fixtures (all times BST): Sat 20 June Bournemouth (a), 7.45pm, BBC Weds 24 June Liverpool (a), 8.15pm, Sky Sports Mon 29 June Burnley (h) – 8pm, Amazon Prime TBC Leicester (a), Chelsea (h), Aston Villa (a), Manchester United (h), Wolves (a), Tottenham (h)