Sunday, August 14, 2022

Chris Richards to Crystal Palace: Premier League move gives USMNT defender a bigger stage to show his skills

It took some bouncing around in Europe, but when his transfer from Bayern Munich to Crystal Palace is finalized United States international Chris Richards will finally have a home. The move, on a deal worth up to €20 million, shows how far a series of short loan moves for playing time can go in helping a young prospect make their mark in Europe. He’ll sign a five year deal with Crystal Palace giving manager Patrick Vieira much needed depth in defense.

When Richards moved from FC Dallas to Bayern Munich in 2018, he was immediately loaned back to the team to complete the MLS season. Then he was kept with the Bayern youth sides until January of 2021 at which point Richards was loaned to Hoffenheim. While he only made 30 appearances for Hoffenheim across a season and a half due to injuries, Richards’ potential showed, especially his advanced technical ability at such a young age. Richards will depart Bayern Munich having only made five appearances for the first team, but it’s hard to say that the move was anything but a success for raising his profile in Europe, and now he joins the growing American contingent in the Premier League.

Brenden Aaronson, Antonee Robinson, and Tyler Adams are all members of the United States men’s national team that will be joining Richards on his scouting mission of England before the World Cup in Qatar. Though while the other three have long had roles nailed down with the USMNT it’s less clear how how Richards fits in so the degree of playing time Richards can earn at Palace is very likely to impact how he fits in USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter’s plans.

Vieira has established starters in central defense of Marc Guehi and Joachim Anderson, both of whom played every minute that they were available for last season, anchoring a solid defense. Crystal Palace’s 46 goals conceded were the seventh best mark in the Premier League last term, but there is room for improvement looking at how those goals were conceded. Set play defense is a concern as Palace conceded the fourth most goals from dead ball situations with 16. Sometimes this is down to facing more set plays than average but Palace actually faced the sixth-fewest corner kicks in the league conceding a goal on five percent of their corner kicks faced.

To put that into perspective, Manchester City were the best team defending from corner kicks and conceded one goal in 108 corner kicks faced. While Palace won’t get to where City are overnight (or even over the course of several decades, if we’re being honest) they can at least start moving in the right direction. Richards is great in the air which could help refine Crystal Palace’s set play defense. Last season he won 58.9 percent of his aerial duels in Germany, which would have been the fifth best rate among Crystal Palace outfielders besting both starting center backs. 

Those numbers won’t translate directly to the Premier League, but Richards’ strengths can help improve Crystal Palace’s weakness which is exactly what you want in a transfer. Considering Joel Ward has been the third-choice center back for the Eagles in preseason so far, Richards shouldn’t have too hard of a path to regular playing time either. In addition to his center backs, Vieira has a set starter in Tyrick Mitchel at left back, but Richards has played across the entire defense defense over the course of his young career.

At Hoffenheim, Richards has been used almost exclusively at center back with a few appearances at left back but Bayern Munich has worked on transitioning him to right back. Due to his athleticism, that is a position that Richards could excel in if he gets more comfortable on the ball and it also happens to be his easiest route into the Palace lineup unless Vieira moves to a back three this season. Richards hasn’t appeared at right back since October of 2020 but he logged over 1000 minutes at the position across all competition for the Bayern youth and senior sides while there.

Vieira’s top options at right back are Joel Ward and Nathaniel Clyne who are solid options but not ones who will take Crystal Palace to the next level in the Premier League. Ward is also 32 years old while Clyne is 31, so Richards taking over at right back would make see every spot in the defense manned by someone 25 or younger. Richards may be a conservative option on the flank but when Vieira needs to figure out a defense to support an attack of Wilfred Zaha, Michael Olise, and Eberechi Eze having stay at home defenders allows them more freedom in the final third.

While right back is Richards’ immediate route to playing time, his five year contract gives Crystal Palace added security if they lose Guehi in the future. With three England caps under his belt and only getting better by the game, interest in Guehi’s services will increase with another good season in South London. Getting Richards now eases worry there and shows how proactive sporting director Dougie Freedman and Vieira have become on the transfer market.

Richards will now have security to perform and not worry about where he’ll be loaned to in the next season while Crystal Palace are getting a talented defender who is only 22 years old on quite an affordable deal. Even the national team wins if Richards gets comfortable at right back as it gives them more versatility and a possible route away from playing DeAndre Yedlin in big games. What’s not to like about heading to London?

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