BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
Roy Hodgson believes his Eagles side can improve next season and reach for a top eight spot.
Crystal Palace play their penultimate match of the season at Cardiff City tomorrow evening before rounding off their season with a game against AFC Bournemouth at Selhurst Park.
Palace are 12th in the Premier League and could end up 11th but the Palace boss sees no reason why there cannot be a further improvement next term.
“I don’t think the differences between the top six or seven or eight teams and the others is that enormous,” said the Crystal Palace boss.
“Wolves and Watford are good teams, but I don’t think we’re a bad team either. It can just be that stroke of fortune you need which lifts you up or that stroke of misfortune which knocks you down.
“The big leap for most clubs in our position at the moment is ‘are we going to find a way of breaking into that top six or seven?’, and I would include Everton and possibly even Leicester in that group. If so, what’s needed?
“But if you go down from there, it could quite easily be, this was our year to have that success or it was not our year to have that success and it was someone else’s turn.
“We do have a good eleven, there’s no question of that, but there’s also no doubt that all clubs need a bit of fresh blood from time to time, to motivate and to provide the competition for those players and to keep them on their toes.
“We, like most of the clubs in our position, will be looking to try and find those players so we start next season at least as well off as we finished it.”
With the season coming to an end, a number of players find themselves out of contract ahead of the transfer window re-opening, and Hodgson finds himself with some decisions to make up front.
Michy Batshuayi’s loan from Chelsea is coming to an end, Bakary Sako’s short-term deal is expiring, Alexander Sorloth’s loan to K.A.A. Gent is coming to an end and Christian Benteke has registered just one strike this season so far.
“Batshuayi has not been discussed,” said Hodgson. “But two of the strikers [contracts] are coming to an, we’ve got Alexander Sorloth who’s been on loan at Gent and we presume he’s coming back but there will be a lot of things to discuss.
“Until such time that a meeting takes place between (Chairman) Steve Parish, (Sporting Director) Doug Freedman, myself and maybe other members of my coaching staff, there’s no point in me speculating or talking too much about it.”
Benteke finally got off the mark this season with his header away at Arsenal in the 3-2 win for Palace but suffered a cheekbone injury against Everton’s Michael Keane in the 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park last week and will miss the Cardiff clash.
“It’s very unfortunate that having found his feet he picks up this nasty knock,” said Hodgson about the Belgian striker. “How long that will keep him out, hopefully not too long but we can’t say. It was quite a heavy blow [for him] because we’re running out of games.
“We can only hope that in the final game this season he’s fit to play in it and that the games he will have next season he can continue to put the injuries behind him and get back to showing some of the football that we’ll be expecting him to show.
“In terms of contracts, that will be discussed with the meeting I have with Steve and Doug. I’m not necessarily aware of every player’s contract situation, for me, it’s a question of are they able to be picked at the weekend.
“It’s important for the club going forward,” he continued. “Players are running out of contract, some which need to be renewed or extended, these are matters which will come into that general discussion when we look at what our squad is going to look like next year and how stable are we in terms of being able to rely upon these players.”