The £14m signing who could help Crystal Palace continue bold charge up the table next season

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Crystal Palace are on the cusp of completing their first transfer of the summer - but is their new defender ready for life at Selhurst Park?

It’s less rumour and more established fact at this point – Crystal Palace are on the cusp of completing their first signing of the summer in the form of Real Betis centre-half Chadi Riad, with the Daily Mail reporting that he is due to undergo a medical on Monday ahead of a move that will set the Eagles back an initial £12.7m with a further £1.7m in add-ons. But how good is the Morocco international, and is he ready to go straight into the first team?

Palace have pushed a youth-first transfer policy in the past few seasons, looking to continue the work done with the signing of players like Michael Olise by developing further fresh talent that can either be sold for a profit or form the spine of the team for the foreseeable future, and Riad fits the template – he has just one season of senior football under his belt and is far from fully proven, but has considerable talent.

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Physically impressive – Riad, who turns 21 in June, is 6’3” with a good leap and has a very respectable turn of pace – the young centre-back joined La Masia in 2019 after spending most of his early youth career with Mallorca and made three senior appearances for Barcelona in the 2022/23 season before joining Betis on a deal which was initially only a loan but which was swiftly made permanent for a fee of around €3m (£2.6m). Quickly establishing himself as a regular in the Betis side, he made 24 La Liga starts and 30 appearances in total in the past year, impressing with his presence, anticipation and sound technique. Scanning social media reveals plenty of Betis fans who are sad to see him move on.

He's also a full international already – born in Spain, he has Moroccan parentage and made their squad for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. He didn’t make the pitch in the tournament itself in the end, but did make his debut in a 3-1 warm-up win over Sierra Leone. That followed 15 youth caps across various age groups from Under-17s to Under-23s.

While his substantial frame is perhaps what first stands out when watching him, his ability to read the game is probably the second thing most would notice about him. Despite his relative inexperience, he seems to anticipate the angle of passes and crosses exceptionally well and has the knack of spotting where second balls are likely to fall – he’s excellent at cutting out crosses at the near post and at beating attackers to knock-downs or lay-offs.

He also uses his judgement well when stepping out of the defensive line and makes surprisingly few poor decisions when pressing – he cuts out passes well and knows when to step in to make a quick tackle and when to stand off. His pace is helpful, too – the fastest forwards can put the burners on him, but he’s quick enough to track back and prevent most one-on-one situations when the ball is played in behind him.

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Of course, given that he only has one proper season to his name, he has plenty to learn too. In particular, although sizeable and able to get good height in the air, he needs to work out how to use his body better in tight marking situations as he can get turned or levered aside too easily, and he sometimes mistimes aerial challenges. As a result, for a player of his size, his success rate at dealing with high balls isn’t especially impressive – as you can see from the chart below, which compares some of his key numbers with those of Palace’s current centre-halves.

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As that chart suggests, his use of possession is another important string in his bow. He’s a calm, unflustered passer who helps his teams to keep control of possession, although it’s worth noting he doesn’t play too many quick, vertical passes forward, which is something that Oliver Glasner is likely to want him to adapt to. He’s also not the kind of defender who looks to carry the ball out from the back, and indeed didn’t successfully beat a single opposing player on the dribble in the entire 2023/24 season – largely because he very rarely tried.

The numbers suggest he is ready to compete for a starting spot but wouldn’t necessarily be an instant inclusion on the team-sheet, especially if Marc Guéhi stays this summer. Nothing concrete has come of the rumoured interest several top sides hold in the England international, but his would be some big boots to fill. He may not put up big raw numbers, but his ability to play in such a way that opposing attackers often can’t even get to the ball or make the pass they want in the first place means that his impact isn’t easy to quantify with simple statistics. The same is true to an extent of Riad, but he isn’t at that level just yet. Nor, of course, was Guéhi at the age of 20.

He may also need to adapt to Glasner’s system – at Betis, the naturally left-footed Riad played as a left-sided centre-half in a back four, so there could be a little positional adjustment required to get the hang of life in a back three. You’d assume he would be earmarked for the left-side berth in that back line, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was eased into first-team action relatively slowly. He isn’t necessarily a day one starter, although he probably won’t be far off.

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The short of it is that Riad looks like a very serious prospect. He has the physical capacity, he seems cool under pressure, is technically sound and appears to read the game extremely well – and while it wouldn’t be a shock if he took a little time to establish himself as a regular at Crystal Palace, the signs suggest he will prove to be an astute signing. A transfer worth up to £14.4m isn’t necessarily cheap, but at his current trajectory it seems likely to be money well spent.

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