The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Southampton
Pulis’s pugilists versus Pochettino’s pretty pressers.
Dani Osvaldo. Remember him? Big Argentine striker, plays for Italy. Headbutted Southampton team-mate Jose Fonte and was promptly sent packing to Juventus (as though that’s somehow a punishment). He was the difference when Southampton hosted Crystal Palace back in September, scoring the winning goal. The fact that he only netted twice more before being told he would never play for the club again following that training-ground fracas doesn’t hide the fact that Saints have been short of firepower since his departure.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Swansea 1-1 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Palace 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- So'ton 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- West Ham 3-1 So'ton (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 So'ton (FAC)
- Hull 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 2-2 Stoke (Prem)
Palace, whose defeat at St Mary’s left them propping up the Prem with just three points from six games, look positively blessed in that department now that Tom Ince has arrived on loan from Blackpool and last season’s top scorer Glenn Murray is finally off the treatment table.
In theory, they also have a lot more to play for, having climbed out of the relegation zone since Tony Pulis’s arrival in November, while Saints – who occupied a Champions League place at that point – have subsequently dropped down several gears, sitting safely in ninth but with little hope of European qualification.
Then, it seems, somebody mentioned the World Cup. Before two defeats in the last two, they went six games undefeated, their English contingent to the fore. Suddenly there’s everything at stake for Messrs Shaw, Lallana, Lambert and Rodriguez. So too manager Mauricio Pochettino, who is apparently next in line for the Real Madrid job.
Throw in the fact that Palace are much better at home and Saints’ last two wins have come on the road and there’s plenty up for grabs.
Uruguayan playmaker Gaston Ramirez could be pushing for a start after making his Saints return from the bench last week. Adam Lallana, like Luke Shaw, should have a spring in his step after an impressive cameo for England, while Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez will be looking to show they should have been given run-outs too.
Key battle: Jason Puncheon vs Luke Shaw
Luke ‘better than Bale’ Shaw has had quite a week after a tidy England debut, but may be tested more at Selhurst Park than he was at Wembley. As Saints’ last away victory, at Hull, shows, the left-back rarely wastes a short pass, makes few mistakes at the back and spends as much time in the opposition’s half as his own, thanks in part to Southampton’s high pressing game.
He also likes to hug the left touchline, with Lallana often making room for his young team-mate by moving infield. This may not be possible against Puncheon, who likes to cut in from the right onto his favoured left foot, as he did twice to good effect in Palace’s last home win, against West Brom. Operating in these areas, he has been the Eagles’ most consistent attacker this season. Much could depend on which team is in the ascendancy, as Puncheon isn’t known for his defensive qualities.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Saints 2-0 Palace (Prem, Sep 13)
- Palace 0-2 Saints (Ch'ship, Apr 12)
- Saints 2-0 Palace (Ch'ship, Dec 11)
- Palace 2-0 Saints (LC, Oct 11)
- Saints 1-0 Palace (Ch'ship, Apr 09)
“We’re not so different you and I.” For Dr Evil and Austin Powers read Tony Pulis and Mauricio Pochettino. While it would be easy to bill the Argentine and the Welshman as beauty and the best in terms of playing styles, the former Espanyol manager was fulsome in his praise of Pulis’ management when Saints played Stoke on the final day of last season. And while Pulis has made Palace tighter at the back and more muscular in midfield, he’s also instilled more urgency in attack, encouraging his players to press higher up the field. Sound familiar?
Facts and figures
- Saints have lost just 2 of 16 trips to bottom-half finishers last season and teams currently in the bottom half this term (W7 D7 L2)
- 7 of Saints' 8 away wins since the start of last season have come to nil.
- 12 of Palace’s 16 defeats have come to nil including eight 2-0 losses.
- 8 of Saints' last 10 home matches have had fewer than 3 goals.
Palace decent at home, Saints impressive away. Both favour 1-0 wins – which they’ll get in each half. 1-1.