Crystal Palace risk being held to ransom by one of their own players this summer should Christian Benteke decline a move to Chinese outfit Shandong Luneng Taisan, who have offered £15m for the 28-year-old’s services according to The Evening Standard.
The towering target-man rakes in an astonishing £130,000-a-week – a figure that takes up a huge chunk of Palace’s wage bill and surely limits their ability to sign new players – despite scoring only four times since the start of the 2017/18 season, including just one strike in 2018/19.
If the number 17 remains at Selhurst Park this summer, Eagles fans can surely expect another few months of frugal spending and minimal changes to their XI, whereas Benteke’s exit could open up all kinds of possibilities.
With Michy Batshuayi and Jordan Ayew set to return to parent clubs Chelsea and Swansea respectively next month, too, Roy Hodgson could soon lack options up front if Benteke is forced out, but who are the three strikers being linked with a switch to Selhurst Park and who would be the best fit?
Perhaps the most natural replacement for Palace’s misfiring man-mountain, Zapata has been on fire for Atalanta this season, chalking up 27 goals and eight assists across all competitions – his highest career tallies by far – thus landing himself on Hodgson’s radar, according to The Sun (print edition 19/5; page 63) via HITC.
The 6 foot 2 powerhouse might look like your typical target man but he has the link-up play to cause problems alongside Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend – Zapata completes an impressive 1.8 key passes per game.
Benteke’s departure would significantly weaken Palace as a threat from set-pieces, but Zapata can make them even better than they were before – WhoScored lists the Colombian’s ‘headed attempts’ among his strengths.
At 28-years-old, the Sampdoria loanee is in his prime and has all the attributes to succeed in the Premier League; for £15m he could be an absolute bargain for Palace.
The Birmingham hitman has pretty much kept the Blues up all by himself, netting 22 goals and recording five assists to boot – Palace see the 22-year-old as ready to take the step up to the top flight, according to The Evening Standard.
With pace to burn and the strength to hold off his man, Adams is a huge threat on the counter and, unlike any of the Eagles’ current striking options, will put the ball away reliably.
With Zaha (hopefully) to his left, the speedy number 9 will have no shortage of opportunities in front of goal and the prospect of the lightning quick duo linking up on the break is a frightening one.
Despite what the 5 ft 9 ace’s stats and Birmingham’s league position tells you, Adams isn’t a one-man army and combines well with his teammates, completing a solid 1.5 key passes per game. He’s got four man of the match awards to his name this campaign and would get many more in red and blue if Palace cough up the £15m required to prise him away from St Andrew’s.
Unlike the aforementioned duo, the burly Serb has plenty of Premier League experience but has yet to be afforded consecutive full seasons in the top flight having been relegated with Newcastle and Fulham – according to The Evening Standard, the Eagles could part with £30m to offer him just that.
Like Zapata, Mitrovic offers the kind of physical presence up front that can ruin any centre-back’s afternoon but the Fulham man won’t require any kind of adjustment period in order to be a success at Selhurst Park. WhoScored are unable to find any significant weaknesses in the 24-year-old’s game, while his finishing, passing and aerial duels are all listed as ‘strong’.
The 47-cap international notched 11 times in a struggling Cottagers side and clearly has the instinct in front of goal that Benteke left on holiday in 2017.
Zaha is often forced to hold the ball up for his team instead of running in behind and doing what he does best. Mitrovic’s arrival, however, would relieve the tricky number 11 of those duties and provide the focal point up front to hit teams on the break.
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It’s incredibly hard to say. Zapata’s goal record speaks for itself; Adams best suits Palace’s counter-attacking style, while Mitrovic has the Premier League experience that removes the element of risk from his higher price tag.
The former and the latter can be thrown in the same boat – two big, powerful strikers who excel in the air – but Adams is a bit different. He’s a pitbull of a forward, while his pace in behind would truly make the Eagles one of the best counter-attacking sides in the league.
The 22-year-old has age on his side, too, and could prove a shrewd piece of investment in an ageing Palace squad at just £15m. Also, Benteke thrived under Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce – managers whose systems play to a target man’s strengths – but crossing isn’t a feature of Hodgson’s style, meaning that Zapata and Mitrovic’s talents could be wasted.
If we were Steve Parish, we’d be on the blower to Birmingham this summer regarding a shrewd £15m swoop.