FPL 2021/22 Season Previews: Part 4 Crystal Palace and Everton

Welcome back to yet another season of Fantasy Premier League football!

If you stuck with us during the exciting and sometimes sad thrill ride that was the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, great to have you back with us again. If you just stumbled upon our FPL content recently, a very warm welcome and hopefully you’ll find our regular contributions to the world of FPL both enjoyable and useful in your quest for a top rank come the end of the season.

Newly promoted Brentford will be taking on Community Shield winners Arsenal in the season opener on Friday, August 13th. In the build-up to that game, we will be taking an in-depth look at each of the 20 squads competing in the Premier League this season with a special focus on their FPL potential. In this fourth instalment, two teams with new bosses vastly different to their predecessors: Crystal Palace under Patrick Vieira and Everton under Rafa Benitez.

CRYSTAL PALACE – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Four Premier League sides are starting the 2021/22 campaign with new managers and Patrick Vieira’s appointment at Crystal Palace is probably the one surrounded by the most questions. Is the former Arsenal legend ready for a 38-week long battlefield that is the Premier League? What kind of tactics will he be focusing on at Selhurst Park? How will Palace approach games under the Frenchman? These questions are not the result of doubts surrounding Vieira’s qualities (more on that later), but mainly due to the fact that this managerial switch marks the end of an era at Selhurst Park.

Since a few weeks into the 2017/18 season, the Eagles had been led by English veteran manager Roy Hodgson. While rarely lauded for his approach to games, Woy’s pragmatic leadership helped an often limited Palace side to mid-table finishes every season without ever really coming in danger of relegation. Usually counting on a relatively old and experienced squad (Palace boasted the highest average age of all teams last season), Hodgson’s Palace was known for a preference to lean back and hit opponents on the counter through quick breaks with Wilfired Zaha as the main danger man.

When presented by the club as Hodgson’s successor, Vieira stated that he wanted to build on the now 73-year old manager’s disciplined work and add a more attacking mindset to it. An admirable goal, that’s for sure, but a big, big challenge as well in a league that is both impatient and unforgiving. Hodgon’s work and results in South London have been underestimated at times due to the former England manager’s conservative tactics, and when looking at Vieira’s most recent record at OGC Nice in the French Ligue 1, the team looks to be facing a transformation. The question is to what extent the Frenchman can translate his preferred tactics to a Premier League-proof concept.

Crystal Palace’s tactics sheet

A quick look at the former Invincible’s tenure at the Côte d’Azur presents us with the image of a manager who likes an expressive kind of football, with 107 goals scored and 118 goals conceded in 89 games for a total of just 1.4 points per game. He has tended towards an attacking 4-3-3 formation in France and the current Palace squad boasts the qualities to emulate a similar approach. At the same time, he needs to be acutely aware of the risks that come with such tactics in the Premier League, especially when looking at the club’s opening fixtures: away games at Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and Arsenal plus home games versus Spurs and Leicester in their first eight gameweeks.

How the Eagles will turn up in gameweek 1 is still pretty much up in the air, but Chair Steve Parish and the rest of the Palace Board are clearly backing the project. Young central defenders Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen were brought in from respectively Chelsea U23 and Olympique Lyon to complement the older, more rigid defenders in the squad, and France U21 attacking midfielder and Young Championship Player of the Year Michael Olise was bought from Reading. On top of that, the talented Connor Gallagher was loaned from Chelsea’s U23 as well.

These transfers point to a more energetic style with more focus on ball possession combined with a speedy, very technical front line. Assuming Vieira will stick to his preferred 4-3-3 formation, the ideal attack will likely consist of talisman Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke and Michael Olise, though Olise is reportedly having some injury issues at the moment. Eberechi Eze should slot in there at some point as well, but he is out for the foreseeable future with a very serious Achilles injury. The three-men midfield looks to be built around loanee Gallagher, together with Jairo Riedewald and anchor Cheikhou Kouyaté. In the back, new acquisitions Andersen and Guehi will likely be flanked by Tyrick Mitchell on the left and Joel Ward on the right. In goal, Vicente Guaita is nailed on.

CRYSTAL PALACE – Potential FPL targets

One thing Vieira will be looking to accomplish this season is to make the Eagles less dependent on Wilfried Zaha (£7.0m) in an attacking sense. Nevertheless, the Ivory Coast international will remain their star man and the automatic first fantasy recommendation when talking about Palace. Last season was not his best in terms of attacking returns, but his 11 goals and 4 assists still represent a direct involvement of just over 36% in all of his team’s goals in the Prem. Only seven players in the entire league recorded a better involvement ratio. A more attacking approach to games should normally benefit Zaha and we find it hard to imagine that his goal involvement will be any lower this season. At £7.0m, he could be an interesting option once the Eagles have their difficult opening set of fixtures behind them.

Our second fantasy pick from the Crystal Palace roster is a bit of a punt, but one we feel has a decent ceiling and a limited downside, thanks to his price tag. Michael Olise (£5.5m) had an impressive break-through season for Reading in the Championship with 7 goals and 12 assists, crowning himself Young Player of the Year. The 19-year old was also part of both the Championship Team of the Season and the PFA Championship Team of the Year. Olise was amongst the most creative players in the entire league with 84 big chances created and he was his side’s set-piece specialist, as well. Of course, he is young and very little is really known about Crystal Palace’s tactics for the coming season, but at £5.5m, he has the potential to become a very effective budget-enabler.

Our final Palace fantasy pick was between goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and defender Cheikhou Kouyaté (£4.5m), and we ended up opting for the latter. The main reason for that is that every FPL manager likes a starting out-of-position asset, and the Ivorian looks to fit the description this season. He is listed as a budget defender, but expected to be deployed at the base of a three-man midfield. In truth, Kouyaté is not expected to record lots of attacking returns (he got 2 goals and 2 assists over the past two seasons) and he might be more susceptible to bookings as a lone defensive midfielder. At the same time, as a fantasy asset, he will also get 4 FPL points per clean sheet and his involvement in the middle of the pitch can also lead to better results in the bonus points index. All we’re saying is: don’t discard him straight away.

EVERTON – FPL 2021/22 team preview

Hopes were high at Goodison Park at the start of last season as elite manager and multiple Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti was appointed to lead Everton to European football. Boosted by big-name acquisitions like James Rodriguez and Allan, the Toffees got off to a flying start and looked like serious top-six challengers by Christmas. The defence looked pretty solid more often than not and they were scoring goals with DCL (Dominic Calvert-Lewin) the main beneficiary from this long patch of good form, from a fantasy perspective.

The second half of the season was less of a good-news show though, and by the time gameweek 38 was upon us, Everton were sitting in tenth place. The 5-0 thrashing at the hands of champions Manchester City was the very sour cherry on what eventually turned out to be another rather disappointing cake of a season. Then Real Madrid came knocking and suddenly the Ancelotti era at Goodison became limited to a single season. Enter Rafa Benitez.

In their search for another heavyweight to be in charge of the dressing room, the Everton management brought in the decorated and highly-respected Spanish manager. As a former Liverpool manager, his appointment was naturally surrounded by some controversy, but his managerial qualities are undeniable and the Toffees know this as well. Known as a manager with a preference for defensive stability over attacking excitement, his overall Premier League record shows an average of 1.53 goals scored per game (and just under 1 goal conceded per game). Considering the fact that last season no team recorded more clean sheets than the Toffees since gameweek 25 (8 in 15 games), Benitez is inheriting a pretty stable side, which will hopefully give him a bit more time to focus on the team’s attacking aspects.

Everton’s tactics sheet

In recent years, Benitez often played in a variation of 4-2-3-1 formations, with three technical attackers filling in behind a strong man up front. It remains to be seen how Everton will line up under the Spaniard in GW1 though, as a formation with a five-man backline looks very fitting for the current squad as well. Considering the investments that were made at the start of last season and the Board’s likely desire to avoid another major upheaval in terms of tactics (and squad), we feel an adapted four-man defence behind Rafa’s heavily favoured double pivot in the middle is the way they will go in most games.

Pickford comes off a good Euro 2020 and is a certainty in goal, and he’ll be happy that Benitez does not tend to expect miracles from his shot stoppers in terms of footballing qualities. Michael Keane will probably be partnered by Yerry Mina in defence, though Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey are candidates as well, especially when playing with five at the back. On the left, Lucas Digne is undisputed in any case, while on the right, Seamus Coleman looks like a starter for now. We write “for now”, because Everton have been heavily linked with dynamic PSV right-back and Euro 2020 star Denzel Dumfries.

The central midfield has always been a key area for the successful implementation of Benitez’ tactics. We have briefly outlined the manager’s focus on defensive solidity, and the central midfield block is where the team’s shape and tempo are decided. At each of his teams in recent years, the midfield was the team’s engine room: At Valencia, these key men were David Albelda and Rubén Baraja; at Liverpool it was a trio from Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Dietmar Hamann and Javier Mascherano; at Inter he trusted Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder; and at Chelsea, Ramires and Frank Lampard formed his double pivot. For this coming season, Abdelaye Doucouré and Allan seem favourites for starting berths, with André Gomes and Tom Davies breathing down their necks.

In attack, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is about as nailed as they come to lead the offensive line. Behind him, Richarlison will slot in on the left side (as soon as he is rested from his Copa América and Olympics exploits). That leaves two spots for James Rodriguez (who looks like the most likely candidate for the #10 position), Alex Iwobi and new acquisitions Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray. Any of them might fill in for Richarlison during the first weeks of the season.

EVERTON – Potential FPL targets

Upon his arrival at Goodison Park, Benitez did not need long to mention the qualities of Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£8.0m). He lauded the England striker’s finishing qualities and aerial presence, and states that one of his priorities was to improve the quantity and quality of service for the man up front. In that light, the addition of Demarai Gray and especially serial crosser Andros Townsend make complete sense. Over the past 2 seasons, DCL managed 29 goals (16 last season) and 7 assists (6 last season), and he ended the 2020/21 campaign with 165 FPL points. Not too shabby for a forward who started the season with a £7.0m price tag. His price was increased by a whole million for the upcoming season, but in our opinion, Calvert-Lewin can still represent excellent value.

A major aspect in that assessment is Everton’s theoretically kind opening set of fixtures. Bar their away game at Old Trafford in gameweek 7, none of their first 11 games rank higher than 3 on the official game’s Fixture Difficulty Rating. This run includes encounters with several teams who were not exactly prolific in front of goal last season, including Brighton, Burnley and Wolves and promoted sides Norwich and Watford. Combine that with Lucas Digne‘s (£5.5m) appealing price tag, and you can see why we’re expecting the Frenchman to be included in plenty of FPL squads come GW1. The left-back could benefit massively from Benitez’ appointment if it leads to him building on last season’s 9 assists with more clean sheets. On top of that, the French international will be on even more set-pieces now that Gylfi Sigurdsson is not likely to feature any time soon.

Another player who could see a serious upturn in his end product is James Rodriguez (£7.0m). His fitness has proven to be somewhat of a potential issue with the Colombian star making it to just 1,763 Premier League minutes last season, but FPL towers seem to have wanted to compensate for that with a very interesting £7.0m price tag. As a result, and on condition that Everton’s attacking pieces fall into place rather quickly under Benitez, what we have here is a potential absolute bargain. James recorded 5 goals and 6 assists last season for a total of 101 FPL points, which is not that bad for a midfielder in his price category, but feels like an underperformance for a player of his quality. Still, excluding fantasy assists, he boasted the best direct goal involvement ratio of all players on the Everton roster (0.51 per game), in part thanks to his set-piece duties. Competition is fierce in his bracket and budgets are limited, but you should at least have the Colombia international around the top of your watchlists.

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