The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Stoke
The baseball cap derby.
In case you didn’t know, Tony Pulis comes up against his former side (in other news, dog bites man). This is just one of the reasons that makes this game more intriguing than you might think, despite appearing to be a prime candidate for the graveyard shift on Match of the Day. The other sub-plots concern the future of Peter Crouch – will he stay in Stoke or follow Pulis to Palace? – and the question of playing style: should you risk a little panache at the (potential) expense of your status as a Premier League side? We all know the answer to this, which is why this could be intriguing. As we said.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Spurs 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- WBA 0-2 Palace (FAC)
- Palace 1-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Man City 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-1 Palace (Prem)
- Stoke 3-5 Liverpool (Prem)
- Stoke 2-1 Leicester (FAC)
- Stoke 1-1 Everton (Prem)
- Spurs 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Newcastle 5-1 Stoke (Prem)
On the one hand you have Palace, who under Pulis have gone back to basics, swapping an in-vogue 4-2-3-1 for a retro 4-4-2. Terms like 'between the lines' and 'double pivot' have been replaced by ‘tight at the back’ and ‘keep it simple’. It's an Old School approach that seems to be paying off.
When Pulis took over, Palace were on seven points from 12 games. But with 10 points from their last nine games, the Eagles are now level with Sunderland and within a beak's length of Cardiff, West Ham and Fulham. This run of form is made more impressive for having played Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham in that time, where it could be argued they were unlucky in all three.
Mark Hughes will argue that Stoke's 5-3 defeat to Liverpool last week owed much to bad luck, too. But that would be glossing over a number of hard truths. During that match, the Potters displayed all the hallmarks of a team struggling for form: an own goal, bungled defensive clearances, a mid-game rally, an unfortunate refereeing decision and a late sucker punch.
That defeat was a microcosm of Stoke’s season for far, where a new refined playing style has been undermined by defensive frailties (with Norwich, they have the joint second-worst goals against record in the league). This could be a symptom of Hughes attempting to play out of the back, a philosophy, while commendable, that will inevitably lead to defensive errors as defenders and midfielders take risks in possession.
The consequence is that Stoke haven’t won in eight away games in the league. Palace and Pulis will be hoping to make that nine. And with the Eagles playing Hull next, who are joint with Stoke for the worst away record in the league, the next couple of home games could determine where the Eagles land in May.
Of the five Palace players on the treatment table, Yannick Bolaise (groin) and Jerome Thomas (calf) could return for this game. It’s a similar story for Stoke, with two of their three injury concerns – Andy Wilkinson (foot) and Robert Huth (knee) - looking set for a weekend return.
Player to watch: Peter Crouch (Stoke)
The former England striker could be crucial in the short and long term for both clubs. His immediate future sees him come up against the manager who signed him for Stoke, the man that (if reports are to believed) wants to take him to south London. We all know why Pulis would be keen to reunite with Crouch: against Liverpool the former England striker scored a goal and hit the post with a header, demonstrating that there are still very few players that offer his aerial threat.
Aside from that (and a good touch, apparently) he provides an out ball, a reliable way of bypassing the midfield. Against Everton, all of Jack Butland’s seven goal-kicks in the direction of Crouch stuck. While not pretty, it’s an effective ploy against a fast-pressing midfield, like Everton’s. The result was a very respectable 1-1 draw. Considering Stoke’s dismal recent away record, they may just settle for a similar outcome.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 2-1 Palace (Prem, Aug 13)
- Stoke 4-1 Palace (FAC, Jan 13)
- Palace 0-0 Stoke (FAC, Jan 13)
- Stoke 1-2 Palace (Ch, Apr 08)
- Palace 1-3 Stoke (Ch, Oct 07)
Much of the pre-match chatter will centre around the two managers. For Hughes, it’s a little unfortunate that he comes up against his predecessor during the Potters' worst run of form this season. The inevitable result is that Stoke fans are beginning to wonder whether the club were right to oust Pulis, especially in light of his work at Palace since taking over. The Potters could certainly do with some of the solidity their former gaffer has brought to the Eagles. Bring back Pulis, anyone? Should he win on Saturday, this might be the message ringing out from the away end at Selhurst Park.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Only four teams in Premier League history have had fewer goals after 21 games than Palace do (13).
- Stoke have won 5 and lost just 1 of their last 7 games against Palace in all competitions.
- The Potters have won 0 of their last 8 Premier League away games (L6 D2).
- Palace have been level at half-time in their last 4 matches.
- No Premier League team has picked up fewer away points than Stoke this season (5, level with Hull).
- Selhurst Park has seen 5 goals from the penalty spot this season, more than any other ground in the Premier League.
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Palace to dominate but fail to take their chances. 1-1.