The United States international Chris Richards will finally have a home when his transfer from Bayern Munich to Crystal Palace is confirmed. The transfer, on a contract worth up to €20 million, demonstrates how far a succession of short loan moves for playing time can help a young prospect build a name for themselves in Europe. He’ll sign a five-year contract with Crystal Palace, providing manager Patrick Vieira with much-needed defensive depth.
Chris Richards was loaned back to FC Dallas to finish the MLS season after moving from FC Dallas to Bayern Munich in 2018. Richards remained with the Bayern youth teams until January 2021, when he was loaned to Hoffenheim. Despite only appearing in 30 games for Hoffenheim over a season and a half due to injuries, Richards’ promise was evident, particularly his advanced technical abilities at such a young age. Chris Richards was leaving Bayern Munich after only five appearances for the first team. Still, it’s difficult to argue that the transfer wasn’t a success in improving his name in Europe. He now joins the expanding American contingent in the Premier League.
Brody Aaronson, Antonee Robinson, and Tyler Adams are all US men’s national team players who will accompany Chris Richards on his scouting expedition to England ahead of the World Cup in Qatar. While the other three have long positions locked down with the USMNT, it’s unclear where Chris Richards slots in. Thus, the amount of playing time Chris Richards can get at Palace will likely affect where he fits in USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter’s plans.
Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen, who each played every minute they were available for last season, established themselves as a central defence under Vieira. Crystal Palace’s 46 goals surrendered last season ranked sixth in the Premier League. Still, there was potential for improvement regarding how those goals were conceded. Palace’s set play defence was a worry, as the club surrendered the fourth most goals from dead ball situations (16). Sometimes this is due to facing more set plays than normal, although Palace faced the sixth-fewest corner kicks in the league, allowing a goal on 5% of them.
To put it in context, Manchester City was the greatest team at defending corner kicks, conceding one goal in 108 corner kicks faced. While Palace will not catch up to City overnight. They can start heading in the right direction. Richards excels in the air, aiding Crystal Palace’s set play defence.
He won 58.9 per cent of his aerial duels in Germany last season. It would have been the sixth best rate among Crystal Palace outfielders, bettering both starting centrebacks.
Those figures will not directly translate to the Premier League. Still, Richards’ talents can assist improve Crystal Palace’s weaknesses, precisely what you want in a deal. Since Joel Ward has been the Eagles’ third-string centreback this preseason, Richards should also have an easy route to regular playing time. In addition to his centrebacks, Vieira has a fixed starting left back in Tyrick Mitchell. However, Richards has played across the whole defence in his short career.
Chris Richards was almost solely deployed at centreback at Hoffenheim, with a few games at left-back. Still, Bayern Munich focused on converting him to right-back. Richards might succeed in that position if he becomes more comfortable on the ball because of his athleticism. It also happened to be his quickest way into the Palace team unless Vieira switched to a back three this season. Richards did not play right back since October 2020. However, he had over 1000 minutes at the position for the Bayern junior and senior teams during his time there.
Vieira’s main alternatives at right-back are Joel Ward and Nathaniel Clyne, both of whom can take Crystal Palace to the next level in the Premier League. Ward is also 32 years old, while Clyne is 31, so with Richards taking over right back, every position in the defence would be occupied by someone 25 or younger. Richards may be a cautious choice on the win. But when Vieira has to find a defence to support Wilfred Zaha, Michael Olise, and Eberechi Eze’s attack, having stay-at-home defenders gives them more leeway in the final third.
While right back is Richards’ immediate path to playing time, his five-year deal provides Crystal Palace with additional protection if Guehi leaves in the future. With three England appearances under his belt and only getting better by the game, Guehi’s availability will grow with another successful season in South London. Getting Richards immediately relieves that concern and demonstrates how aggressive sporting director Dougie Freedman and Vieira have been in the transfer market.
Chris Richards will now have the assurance of knowing where he will be loaned to next season. At the same time, Crystal Palace will receive a promising defender who is only 22 years old on a very cheap term. If Richards becomes comfortable at right back, the national team will benefit from more versatility and a viable alternative to playing DeAndre Yedlin in key games.