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How Crystal Palace took a risk on Schlupp and its now working magic

It is the age old debate – is the gamble worth the risk?Well, rewind to January and for  Crystal Palace  it most certainly was.

The Eagles were looking likely candidates for relegation after a torrid run of form in the Premier League in 2016, which had shown little sign of improvement under new boss Sam Allardyce.

While other clubs around Palace in the table had seen the effect of a “new manager bounce” like Swansea City and Hull City, the Eagles struggled early on in Allardyce’s tenure, taking just one point from his first five Premier League matches in charge.

As a result, Palace dropped into the relegation zone after conceding a late goal at home against Everton, in a game they deserved a point from having battled well with Ronald Koeman’s men.

Seamus Coleman struck a late winner as Everton beat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in January

Action was needed, and although Jeffrey Schlupp had already arrived in a £12m deal from Leicester City, it was clear Palace required further reinforcements.

But with the clock ticking on the January transfer window, inevitably the prices became more and more inflated, such was Palace’s desperate need.

However, as Sam Allardyce has acknowledged on more than one occasion, including this week after Premier League survival was confirmed with a 4-0 thrashing of Hull City, the Palace owners dug deep to finance the deals to help keep the Eagles in the top flight.

Photo: Neil Everitt

Patrick van Aanholt arrived from Sunderland in the January transfer window

Next came Patrick van Aanholt, who joined from Sunderland in a deal worth around £14m – a figure that many people will have baulked at when it came out.

But that was important to help solve the problem left-back position, which had become an increasing burden for both former boss Alan Pardew and Allardyce upon his arrival.

Palace have repeatedly said that they could not have envisaged the long-term injuries suffered by Pape Souare back in September in a car crash on the M4 , but it did reveal a hole in their summer recruitment and left the Eagles woefully short in a vital position.

READ MORE: Alan Pardew reveals regret over Crystal Palace’s summer transfer window

The additions of van Aanholt and Schlupp before him gave Palace options at left-back, and left Allardyce and the board with some time, albeit a limited amount, to try and get further deals ‘across the line’ before the deadline.

And so they did, with perhaps the two most important signings of Palace’s recent history, in terms of the impact they have subsequently had on the side, still to come.

Serbian star Luka Milivojevic was first to sign on deadline day, with the defensive midfielder joining from Greek champions Olympiakos for an initial £11.1m – filling a void that had been left in the side since the departure of Mile Jedinak to Aston Villa in August.

Photo: PA Wire

Luka Milivojevic made his Crystal Palace debut in a 1-0 defeat at Stoke City in February

Signing someone with no Premier League experience may have been considered as something of a gamble, but Milivojevic soon quashed that notion as he quickly adapted to Premier League football and showed himself to be a key signing for Palace.

But there was still more to come with the last-minute deal to sign Mamadou Sakho , which was thrashed out in the corridors of the Vitality Stadium after Palace had picked up a vital 2-0 win away at AFC Bournemouth.

Again, signing a man who had not played in the Premier League all season after being frozen out at Liverpool may have represented a risk for Palace, but Sakho has since had the biggest impact of the four January signings, with his superb performances even leading to him being nominated for the club’s player of the year award , despite only featuring eight times for Palace.

READ MORE: Crystal Palace ready for talks with Liverpool over defender

He transformed the Palace defence, providing calmness and stability to what had been a fragile unit at the back, with Sakho’s commitment to the cause and ability on the ball proving crucial in the Eagles turning their form around and picking up six wins in nine matches.

Photo: Getty Images

Mamadou Sakho had a huge impact after arriving on loan at Crystal Palace from Liverpool

The only one of those he didn’t feature in was against his parent club Liverpool, but such was his influence in his eight games that it has led to Palace fans calling for the club to sign him permanently, even though Liverpool have set an asking price of £30m.

Whether Palace can complete a deal remains to be seen, but the Frenchman – together with the three other January signings – played a pivotal role in helping Palace to climb their way out of trouble.

READ MORE: ‘Premier League survival is great, but let’s build an SAS legacy at Crystal Palace’

Sakho’s impact was perhaps more obvious, with Palace keeping four clean sheets – including three in a row – during his seven completed matches, and his presence was undoubtedly missed as the Eagles lost three games in a row when he picked up an injury.

But Milivojevic, van Aanholt and Schlupp all made their own marks too, from the assertiveness in midfield provided by the Serbian to the pace and threat going forward of both van Aanholt and Schlupp, who both did well at different times at left-back.

Photo: Getty Images

Jeffrey Schlupp put in a number of impressive displays towards the end of the season

Of course, the two goals scored by both Milivojevic and van Aanholt also helped, but it is fair to say that each of Palace’s January signings proved their worth at different stages in the second half of the campaign.

READ MORE: What do Crystal Palace need this summer to avoid another relegation battle?

And together, the four players showed that while Palace may have spent big to bring them in, with more than £40m being spent in fees and wages, they were ultimately worth every penny, when you consider the financial hit the south Londoners would have taken if they had fallen through the trap door.


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