It’s been an extremely encouraging start to life under new manager Patrick Vieira for Crystal Palace, but a major stumbling block could be just around the corner for the French tactician.
The Eagles are set to lose four first-team stars for up to a month in January due to their involvement in the rescheduled Africa Cup of Nations.
Jeffrey Schlupp and Jordan Ayew ARE expected to feature for their native Ghanawhile Wilfried Zaha and Cheikhou Kouyate are set to represent Ivory Coast and Senegal, respectively.
The 24-team tournament, postponed from last year amid the pandemic, is due to get underway in Cameroon on January 9 and run until February 6.
It means the quartet could miss the Eagles’ derby clash with Brighton at the Amex Stadium on January 15, and the visit of Liverpool on January 22.
They are also likely to miss Palace’s third-round FA Cup tie, which is likely to be played on the weekend of January 8. They could also be absent for the Premier League game away to Norwich, currently scheduled for February 8, if their nations go deep into the competition.
It’s set to leave Vieira extremely threadbare in attack, given the club were unable to replace Andros Townsend over the summer, but the solution could be a rather simple one.
Teenage winger Jesurun Rak-Sakyi was brought into the first-team fold at the backend of last season under former Palace manager Roy Hodgson, earning a place on the bench on three occasions as 2020/21 drew to a close.
“He dealt with it very well,” said Hodgson (as relayed by The Athletic), who chose to take Rak-Sakyi to Everton as a non-playing squad member for a draw at Goodison Park.
“For such a young man, he’s shown a remarkable maturity, and a remarkable sangfroid as well, coming into a group of senior players who he’s probably only watched from the terraces before. You wouldn’t notice that with his performances in the training sessions where he’s really taken on the responsibility.
“Everyone’s taken to him and been appreciative of him and what he can do. I’m very pleased with him and very pleased for him. We believe at Crystal Palace that he has a big future and he will get better and better,” the ex-England boss concluded.
And Rak-Sakyi showcased just how much of a threat he can be last season, bagging eight goals and providing a further eight assists in just 16 appearances for Palace’s U18s, before being promoted into the U23s.
The 19-year-old was rewarded for his standout displays last term after Vieira handed him his Premier League debut off the bench against Chelsea in the club’s curtain-raiser at Stamford Bridge. That could be the first of many top-flight outings for the youngster this term.
A tally of five goals and two assists in just six outings for the youth side this season suggests Rak-Sakyi will be ready to make the step up when needed in January, meaning Vieira will be able to continue to progress in south London despite the absence of several key players.