Crystal Palace have suffered a blow in their pursuit of Watford midfielder Will Hughes after seeing an opening bid for the 26-year-old rejected.
The Eagles have been heavily linked with a move for the former England under-21 international in recent weeks after he turned down the offer of a new deal from his current club.
Hughes will be a free agent in 12 months’ time after entering the final year of his contract at Vicarage Road and has attracted the attention of multiple top-flight teams as a result.
In Patrick Vieira’s press conference on Friday afternoon, the Frenchman admitted that he needs some added strength in depth in the middle of the park despite the arrival of Conor Gallagher on a season-long loan.
“When you look at the squad, we are maybe a little bit more light on numbers, and we are working hard to improve the squad (with) the window are still open. We will try to bring players that can improve our squad,” revealed the former Nice boss.
“I think where we are maybe a little bit more short is upfront and in the midfield, I think it would be good to reinforce those positions.”
With the departures of Andros Townsend, Michy Batshuayi and James McCarthy, it’s easy to understand why Vieira feels the need to address the aforementioned positions, and Hughes could be a significant upgrade on the current engine room options.
The Derby County academy graduate joined the Hornets back in 2017 in search of Premier League action and established himself as a solid top-flight player during his time at the club, scoring five goals and laying on a further eight assists in 77 appearances in England’s top division.
Javi Gracia, one of his many former Watford managers, lauded the defensive-minded maestro after an impressive return from injury, saying: “I think he did a very good job in the time he was on the pitch. He was very clever made a very good assist, and took care of the ball. I think he was very good for us.”
It seems clear that Vieira and Palace would benefit from his arrival. As per WhoScored, Hughes recorded an average of 1.9 tackles per league game last term and 1.2 interceptions, outperforming Jairo Riedewald’s tallies of one and 0.9 respectively.
It wasn’t just out of possession where Hughes excelled, either. The Englishman pulled off 0.6 key passes per game throughout 2020/21, bettering Riedewald’s 0.4 and showcasing his ability with the ball at his feet.
As a result, Palace chairman Steve Parish may be tempted to increase his offer for the Englishman, but whether he’s prepared to match the £12m asking price for a player who will be out of contract next summer remains to be seen.