Big Sam and Tracksuited Tony see who can pack out the midfield the most.
If this fixture had taken place just a few days earlier, the bookies might have been offering the shortest odds on a goalless draw in Premier League history: bottom-of-the-pile Palace, with two goals in 10 games, against the strikerless Hammers, with just two in five.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Norwich 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Hull 0-1 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 0-0 Everton (Prem)
- West Brom 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
WEST HAM FORM
- West Ham 3-0 Fulham (Prem)
- West Ham 0-3 Chelsea (Prem)
- Norwich 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Burnley 0-2 West Ham (LC)
Eight weeks after it was hailed as a tactical masterstroke following their 3-0 win at Tottenham, Sam Allardyce’s 4-6-0 formation was sending West Ham fans to sleep. Their side were enjoying plenty of possession but very few shots to show for it, leading to much head-scratching in the stands as to when the hell Andy Carroll will finally be fit – the latest is that he’ll start training this week but won’t be match-fit until the New Year.
But at Upton Park on Saturday, no one talked about Carroll for once, as Big Sam started with a proper striker (albeit one who hasn’t scored in a year) in Modibo Maiga, restored Mohamed Diame to midfield and reaped the rewards as his team stuck three past Fulham without reply.
The result and performance should see the end of Allardyce’s strikerless set-up, but his next big call surrounds his skipper. Kevin Nolan has missed Carroll more than most – his biggest strength is picking up the scraps from knock-downs in the box – and the Hammers looked far more creative on Saturday after Nolan was replaced by Ravel Morrison. Having declared last week that he wouldn’t drop him – “Kevin’s having a dry spell but he drives our players on” – that final 15 minutes against Fulham might see Allardyce have a change of heart until a certain rampaging Geordie is back and bulldozing his way around the opposition box.
Palace boss Tony Pulis had a big decision of his own to make last week – which of the three baseball caps offered to him by his new employers to wear on the touchline? Having settled for a nice navy number ahead of his side’s game at Norwich on Saturday – and endured the home fans singing ‘Tony Pu-lis/He looks like a chav’ – the club shop at Selhurst Park will no doubt be getting stocked up ahead of the Christmas rush.
Pulis has described the next six months as the biggest challenge of his career, and while the 1-0 loss at Carrow Road saw the Eagles return to the bottom of the table, his side’s positive second-half display will give him reason to remain hopeful.
Still, for now the goals tally stays stuck on a pitiful seven for the season, so every strike will be precious while the former Stoke boss tightens things up at the back. A one-nil win courtesy of an 84th-minute James Collins own goal? That’ll do Tony very nicely on Tuesday night.
For Palace, Yannick Bolasie is still out suspended after seeing red at Hull, while Adlene Guedioura (ribs), Jack Hunt (ankle) and Glenn Murray (knee) all remain sidelined.
They won’t be singing Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes at the West Ham Christmas bash, that’s for sure. As well as Carroll (foot), Allardyce is without fellow injured forwards Mladen Petric (calf) and Ricardo Vaz Te (shoulder), so Carlton Cole could feature from the bench after his goal against Fulham. Further back, Razvan Rat (hamstring) and Winston Reid (ankle) aren't expected to return for the game at Selhurst Park.
Player to watch: Marouane Chamakh (Palace)
Regularly derided at Arsenal for his wayward shooting and overuse of hair gel, the Moroccan forward had his best game yet for Palace against Norwich. Deployed in a slightly deeper, more central position – he’d regularly play out wide under Ian Holloway – he held the ball up very well in the second half, allowing Cameron Jerome to push on and threaten the Norwich goal. Chamakh’s stats made encouraging reading: he made more ball recoveries than any player on the pitch (9), went in for more aerial duals than any of his team-mates (13) and won the most free-kicks in the game (6).
His goals return may be poor but if he can keep on creating, he could be a key man under the new boss.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- W Ham 0-0 Palace (C’ship, Feb 12)
- Palace 2-2 W Ham (C’ship, Oct 11)
- Palace 1-0 W Ham (C’ship, May 04)
- Palace 1-0 W Ham (Div 1, Apr 04)
- W Ham 3-0 Palace (Div 1, Oct 03)
Although both are renowned for their unenviable brand of football and getting results on a meagre budget, we wouldn’t dare attempt to compare Allardyce with Pulis. “My ideas are not the same as Tony's. I'm an individual. Nobody copies Sam Allardyce,” said the West Ham boss when asked about their similarities last year. “We have the same philosophy in terms of wanting to defend well, making sure our team is organised, and understanding what's needed to be done in terms of game-plan, but I don't copy anybody else.”
Pulis leads the head-to-head, winning three of their seven Premier League clashes, with Allardyce winning two and the other two finishing level.
Facts and figures
Tips and trends
- Crystal Palace have scored fewer goals in total (7) and at home (4) than any other team this season.
- There have been fewer than 3 goals in 4 of Palace’s 6 home games, with the Eagles drawing the first half in 3 of those matches.
- No team has been involved in more goalless draws (4) than West Ham this season, and only Spurs average fewer goals per game than the Hammers.
- They have gone into the break level in 4 of their 6 away matches this season and have had under 2.5 goals in 9 of their previous 12 league encounters.
Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Pulis will be desperate to make a winning start in the Selhurst Park dugout – and he won’t even need to rely on an own-goal to get it. 1-0.