With every striker and forward in the Crystal Palace squad approaching a crucial summer the last nine Premier League games and further FA Cup matches will go a long way towards determining the future of these players in the red and blue.
While it is true that every time a player steps on the pitch they should treat that game as one of the upmost importance, the remaining games this season will take on extra meaning for the forwards of Crystal Palace. For various reasons all of the players that have played striker for the Eagles are quickly approaching not only a crossroads in their Crystal Palace career, but their football career as a whole. The notable exception to this is Andros Townsend who has played some at forward this season but has proven more comfortable out wide, and has had a strong season and appears to be loving life with the Eagles. For the other seven attacking players who currently call South London home, including Alexander Sørloth, their play the next ten games will go a long way towards where they are playing next season and beyond.
This summer will bring more speculation about the future of Wilfried Zaha. Will this be the summer that he leaves Crystal Palace again? This season rumors have swirled about Tottenham, Chelsea, and Dortmund being potential destinations for the tricky winger. Zaha has successfully overcome a mid-season run of spotty form but has proven totally unplayable in recent matches, leaving fans giddy and defenders helpless. If Zaha were to leave it would of course be for a massive transfer fee and would cause the style and mentality of the entire squad to shift. Those of course will only be issues should the talisman decide to move on. Helping to propel the team up the table will be good for both the club and the player as ending the season on a good run of form would maximize any potential transfer fee and could attract more potential, high paying suitors.
During his season long loan spell with the Eagles Jordan Ayew has cut somewhat of a controversial figure. Despite many fans not rating the on-loan striker Roy Hodgson never lost faith in Ayew and has been rewarded with an upturn in results recently. The arrival of Michy Batshuayi has relegated Ayew to a lesser role but he has still been solid when called upon. Of course at the end of the season Ayew will return to Swansea City, however neither he nor the club likely have interest in that staying the case, or else he wouldn’t be on loan at the Eagles now. With only two goals across his 23 appearances Ayew will likely be looking to add to that as he tries to prove to Crystal Palace, or any other Premier League team, that he can still compete at the top level.
The case of Bakary Sako’s season is a strange one to say the least. Without a team until October before joining West Brom and leaving in January with five appearances to rejoin the Eagles on a free transfer. Sako was brought back to provide depth in the squad following the departures of Sullay Kaikai and Alexander Sørloth, and provide depth is about all he has done. With just one brief Premier League appearance this season the Malian is likely staring down the end of his Premier League career. It would be surprising if he were offered another contract by Palace at the end of this season as he would be just a squad player and young players such as Levi Lumeka and Jason Lokilo deserve a chance to step up into that role.
For Connor Wickham this summer will be all about getting healthy. The Englishman has shown flashes of the player he used to be this season and scored his long awaited return goal in the FA Cup, however has still spent far too much time on the training table. If Wickham can have a healthy preseason he may be able to finally work his way back into the first team conversation that he has been absent from for almost three years, if not he could be added to the list of promising footballers who had their career derailed by injuries.
Michy Batshuayi has proven to be exactly what The Eagles needed in the January window. The Belgian has a terrific combination of skill and pace that makes him a nightmare for opposing defences. Unfortunately the prospects of The Eagles bringing him in permanently do not appear to be good with his ambitions and price tag both likely taking Crystal Palace out of the equation. Therefore, similar to Ayew, the rest of the season will be all about Batshuayi showing other clubs, or Chelsea what he can do in terms of his next move. This is likely not what many Eagles fans want to hear, but it is the reality. On the bright side Batshuayi doing well has also proved to be successful for the team as he has helped the attack start to be successful and has brought out the best in players like Zaha.
The remainder of this season will likely be the last games for Christian Benteke in the red and blue. After a strong first season a lack of confidence, injuries, and poor play have led to two poor seasons for the target man. After scoring 15 goals his first season Benteke has managed a mere three goals across his last 39 appearances. For a player who will be entering the last year of his contract this summer this is likely the last opportunity that the club will have to recoup any of the large transfer fee spent on him. With the massive wages that he is on a move to China may suit all parties best as Palace would get some of their money back and Benteke would likely not have to take a massive pay cut. Benteke was supposed to be the long term answer and unfortunately it has not worked out either the way he or the club envisioned.
One player who will also be looking to have a productive summer is Alexander Sørloth. The lanky centre forward is currently on loan at Gent but will be back with the Eagles in the summer. Sørloth never really found his feet in the Premier League however a productive loan spell in Belgium could do wonders for his confidence. With this summer potentially being full of change in the front line at Palace Sørloth will hope to emerge as a true contributor next season and reward the club for the faith they showed in him, plucking him from a lesser league for a large transfer fee.
In conclusion, this summer will be a massive one in terms of the future of the club. Crystal Palace hasn’t had a consistent goal scorer since Benteke’s first season and that was only one year blip. If The Eagles are to start looking up the table instead of fighting relegation a long term answer is needed at striker. The answer could be in the squad already in Sørloth, Zaha, or even a long shot in Batshuayi. Regardless of what the future holds for the club and these players the next 10 games will be key to determining what happens this summer and beyond.