The transfer rumours regrading Wilfried Zaha have lead to some of the most frenzied and desperate click-bait from a plethora of media sources this summer. He is Palace’s talisman and, as the stats showed last season, an indispensable player for the Eagles.
However, one player who was grabbing a few headlines shortly after the season ended was Andros Townsend, with a potential return to Newcastle. Although these rumours have somewhat subsided in the last few weeks, there was a point where Palace fans had to confront the idea of Andros leaving the club, with a mixed response.
When looking back over his 17/18 season, although not being so fruitful in terms of goals scored, Townsend was arguably one of Palace’s most valuable players and with this new season right round the bend, his presence on the team sheet will be more crucial than ever.
In the recent years, Palace have had tricky and pacey wingers on both sides of the pitch who terrorise the oppositions full backs. This was true in the 2012/2013 where Bolasie and Zaha on the flanks pushed Palace back into the Premier League after an 8 year absence.
The focus on the wingers has remained almost ever since. Bolasie only netted 3 times that season, yet was regarded as a vital and critical member of the promotion-winning campaign.
He has since gone down as a club icon with many fans calling for his return from a disappointing spell with Everton, riddled by injury. His importance was not only his unpredictability and skill but because he alleviated the pressure from Zaha, he offered another outlet which was equally as hard to defend.
This is where Townsend was also key last season. Similar to Bolasie, he only scored 2 goals, but his ability on the ball lead to him being the player who created the most chances, had the joint number of key passes per game and 7 assists to his name, the most in the Palace squad. With Benteke misfiring, this number could have been significantly more and his displays could have been even more appreciated.
Because of this stellar contribution, it gave Zaha more freedom to roam, to take chances and to get his name on the score sheet more times than he ever achieved in the Premier league. In essence, Townsend indirectly helped make Zaha better and with Zaha usually demanding more focus from the opposition’s defence, it allowed Andros to fly under-the-radar and assist the team with goals and chances.
As a more traditional winger, he is not as exciting to watch as Bolasie and has not quite gained the attention and credit he deserves. The 2018/2019 season is the prime opportunity to settle himself as a fan favourite amongst the Palace faithful.
When looking at goals scored it is easy to judge Townsend’s 17/18 display as disappointing, yet it is how he impacts the team in other unquantifiable ways that showcases his importance. It is hard to dislike a player who gives everything for the team, it is always frustrating as a fan when a player can be seen with a dry, sweat-less forehead, moseying around the pitch and not tracking back, especially when playing in a relegation battle.
Andros however, is Palaces biggest work-horse. His effort alone is commendable. Not only did he have the joint most appearances alongside Milivojevic last season, he played the most minutes of any player and he lead the line for Palace when they were in the thick of the infamous injury crisis.
He played as a striker when called upon, on the left of midfield and on the right. If there is one player who ‘Played for the badge’ last season, the accolade would surely go to Townsend. Sometimes it is traits such as this that proves more profitable for the team as a whole than an individual goal tally.
Although Palace must do all they can to retain the services of Zaha, the same focus should be given to Townsend. His pre-season has fallen nothing short of what is expected of him, churning out some red-in-the-face showings even in Friendlies. He also has shown his quality with some excellent assists, especially a trademark Townsend tee-up for Tomkins’ header in Palace’s 4-0 thrashing of Reading.
Although Zaha will deflect the majority of attention away from Andros if he starts this season with Palace how he finished the last, Andros has the potential to secretly be Palace’s most valuable player next season. If he can grab a few more goals and if Benteke can put away more golden chances, his value may not even be a secret.