Throughout transfer deadline day, it was clear that Michy Batshuayi was on the move. The Chelsea striker had cut short an unproductive loan spell at Valencia and was set to embark on another temporary switch, this time to another Premier League club. The only question was where he would end up when the window slammed shut on Thursday night.
Everton, West Ham United and, improbably, Tottenham Hotspur were all linked with the Belgium international, but in the end it was Crystal Palace who secured his services until the end of the season. The south Londoners’ pursuit of a new striker had gone quiet since they pulled out of a deal for Dominic Solanke at the start of January, and it seemed as if Roy Hodgson was content to press ahead with the options already at his disposal. In the end, though, Palace agreed to match the wage demands of a player they first tried to sign in summer 2016, filing the necessary paperwork just minutes before the 11pm deadline.
Batshuayi made his debut as a substitute in Saturday’s 2-0 success against Fulham, with a neat piece of footwork and smart shot leading to Jeffrey Schlupp’s victory-sealing goal in the 87th minute. It was an impressive cameo performance from the former Marseille man, who will be desperate to succeed at Selhurst Park after scoring only three times in 23 appearances on loan at Valencia earlier this campaign.
After an even first half in which there was little to choose between the two teams, Palace were dominant after the break. The hosts already led 1-0 thanks to Luka Milivojevic’s penalty in the 25th minute, and that advantage never looked in danger as they attacked the Holmesdale Road end in the second period. Jordan Ayew, James Tomkins, Christian Benteke and Mamadou Sakho all had chances to score before Schlupp put the game to bed late on, with Palace doing a fine job of sustaining attacks and pinning Fulham back in their own half.
With Benteke and Connor Wickham now fit again, Palace suddenly have plenty of options up front. There has been talk of the two Belgians, Batshuayi and Benteke, potentially forming a strike partnership in a 4-4-2 formation, but that seems unlikely given that Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend are near-certain starters – deploying two strikers and two wingers would likely leave Palace too open without the ball, and Hodgson is not the type of manager who goes gung-ho too often. The compatriots are therefore likely to be in direct competition for the No.9 jersey, with Zaha and Townsend set to be tasked with supplying the ammunition from the flanks in a 4-3-3 configuration.
“It was strong of him [Batshuayi] to come in at such short notice and do what he did, we think we have signed a player who will be of enormous value to us in our attempts to stay in this league which won’t be easy because we face a lot of competition and it’s going to be very hard to see it through,” Hodgson said in his post-match press conference.
“I think the squad without him was good and I think the squad with him and Bakary Sako – who also made his re-debut for the club today – I think we are stronger and you need that.
“I think the one thing most of the clubs in the bottom half of the table are aware of is the goalscoring ability of players in the team. We are very happy now that when I look at the squad we have I think we have alternatives and I think we have more than enough players who can score the goals which we will need to keep us in the league.”
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