Palace have signed two centre-mids this transfer window -- here's Jack Snell with a look at why it could have an impact on a Selhurst Park favourite.
Palace's current squad is undoubtably stacked in the centre of midfield and, especially after the arrivals of Max Meyer and Cheikhou Kouyate, there are many competent players vying for the two coveted central midfield spots. Roy Hodgson implemented a standard 4-4-2 formation which proved very successful for the Eagles at the business end of last season. This enabled exciting attacking football but also with a solid defensive base, stemming from the anchoring role Luka Milivojevic so effectively commanded all season.
Even with the new additions there is no chance that Milivojevic will be demoted to the bench, if it was not for Wilfried Zaha’s spine-tinglingly good season then the POTY award would most likely have been gifted to the Serbian international. Meyer and Yohan Cabaye look a like-for-like swap; the young German has already been handed the number 7 shirt and has himself admitted his favoured position is “between the number 6 and number 10.” Hodgson admitted Palace haven’t been able to spend so much in the market this summer, so £10 million for Kouyate to keep the bench warm seems uneconomic. As a result, it looks as if he will also be pushing for a place in what could be Palace’s most talented starting 11 ever.
So, who is the biggest loser of this transfer window? Some will say Jairo Riedewald who has effectively already been told he is surplus to requirements. However, he does not have too much to lose. A few starts and a handful of substitute appearances last season did not do enough to earn him regular playing time. The biggest loser of this transfer window could be James McArthur.
McArthur was a key figure in last seasons survival. He had been written off under Sam Allardyce and many were convinced his days were numbered in the red and blue. However last season he proved essential when the chips were down and results were needed. His movement off the ball lead to many right-place-right-time moments, often resulting in critical goals; namely the equaliser at Southampton and the last minute winner against Watford.
McArthur does not often put a foot wrong, however he is not a consistent provider of chances and a conjurer of magic. He does his job and he does it well. The importance of his role is under appreciated because the majority of the work he does is off the ball in his high pressing and his ability to quickly to close down opposition. He is undoubtably a frustrating player to play against. Yet he is not a typically exciting player. He lacks flair and/or positive forward play.
This is where the likes of Meyer and Kouyate can outshine him. Last season Ruben Loftus-Cheek was regarded as one of the best talents to have played in the Premier League for Palace by many fans. However, his performances were actually hit or miss. He was either the most dynamic and exciting individual on the pitch or a player looking anonymous and predictable. This can be true for his World Cup performance when he dazzled versus Panama, yet was the forgotten man vs Belgium on both occasions. However, Loftus-Cheek is an extremely forward thinking player. The sort of player Palace have lacked in midfield, especially the days of the ‘horizontal passing’ when Cabaye, Jason Puncheon and Joe Ledley became masters of the lateral 5-metre pass under Alan Pardew.
Even though McArthur was a statically superior goal scorer, lost possession fewer times, and was more effective defensively with a higher tackle and interception rate than Loftus-Cheek, the majority of Palace fans would rather start the young England international. No one is mentioning the disappointing 2 goals scored by Loftus-Cheek and only three assists over 24 appearances. For an especially offensive player who powers through defensive lines, one would expect a more clinical yield.
This is because he an inherently exiting player to watch and this can sometimes cloud the reality of his contribution. That being said, he is a player that the opposition will be fearing. A player that the tactics of the opposition could be altered due to his name on the teamsheet. Rumours of Loftus-Cheek making a return on loan do nothing to help McArthur’s fight to keep his position in the squad, were that move to materialise.
Unfortunately for McArthur, he is not regarded an impact player. If he does end up facing long spells on the bench his role will presumably be that of a watchman; to guard a slender one-goal lead and add a hard-to-break-down element for the opposition pushing for the equaliser. He is rarely used as a Hail Mary; a player who is thrown on off the bench to try and net the winner. Of the seven goals scored in all competitions, only one was scored after coming off the bench, albeit a vital one.
That said, his pre-season has been beneficial to his cause, by working hard as usual, supplying goals and grabbing the odd one himself. Since Meyer and Kouyate have missed almost the entire pre-season, if he starts the season in a similar fashion he might be able to hold onto his starting place. However, he will have players breathing down his neck the whole season.