The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs West Ham
A Palace side up against it after losing a popular manager face a Hammers team up against it having kept an unpopular one.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Arsenal 2-1 Palace (Prem)
- Augsburg 0-0 Palace (F)
- Brentford 3-2 Palace (F)
- Richmond Kickers 0-3 Palace (F)
- Philadelphia 0-1 Palace (F)
WEST HAM FORM
- West Ham 0-1 Spurs (Prem)
- West Ham 3-2 Sampdoria (F)
- Malaga 2-0 West Ham (F)
- Schalke 0-0p West Ham (F)
- Sydney 3-1 West Ham (F)
Crystal Palace’s oft-mentioned "miracle" under Tony Pulis must feel a very long time ago. The rise from December dropzone-dwelling to May's 11th finish is as much a part of ancient history as Pulis himself, pushed toward the Palace door by Steve Parish. The chairman seemed odds-on to turn to Malky Mackay, let go by Cardiff City in similarly baffling circumstances last December, but that plug has also been pulled in light of allegations against Mackay and his former Cardiff colleague Iain Moody.
Former Spurs boss Tim Sherwood is also out of contention for the role, and it's unlikely Palace will name Pulis' replacement before West Ham rock up at Selhurst Park. In all probability it will be Keith Millen that leads the side out for his second game in charge of the season, with the former Bristol City manager hoping a positive result or two might see him given the nod long-term.
Both sides will hope to recover from losing London derbies at the death last week. Palace put in a spirited display at Arsenal but succumbed to a pair of set-pieces in the dying minutes of each half, cardinal sins that would have had Pulis "two-footing the telly" according to pundit Gary Neville.
West Ham finished 2013/14 in a mediocre 13th, with supporters becoming increasingly disgruntled with disappointing results and a negative style of play. Sam Allardyce would have been desperate for a season-opening result against Spurs, but Mark Noble's missed penalty proved fatal, leaving Big Sam to lament a lack of luck. A similar tale of woe won't wash should the Hammers lose back-to-back derbies at turmoil-hit Palace.
Having bolstered the forward line by bringing in Enner Valencia, Mauro Zarate and Diafra Sakho, Allardyce seeks defensive reinforcements after losing Jameses Collins and Tomkins to suspension and injury.
In the same fixture last season, Pulis got a first win under his belt as Palace boss in a tight 1-0 triumph. This clash will be a similarly close encounter, and making the most of what few chances materialise will be key.
Palace are without the services of Jason Puncheon after collecting two yellows against Arsenal. Adrian Mariappa, Scott Dann, Jerome Thomas and Jonathan Williams are injured.
West Ham, like their opponents, have a player out through suspension in James Collins, while Matt Jarvis, Ravel Morrison, Carl Jenkinson and (of course) Andy Carroll join Tomkins on a presumably crowded treatment table.
Player to watch: Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham)
Among the many, many summer transfers there was one which may have slipped under the radar: Cheikhou Kouyate, signed from Anderlecht for £7 million after seven successful seasons in Belgium. In his relatively short career to date, Kouyate has mainly operated as a centre-back, but against Spurs the Senegalese man-mountain delivered a domineering performance in front of the back four alongside Noble. His passing skills matched with a combination of power and pace are seemingly custom-made for the Premier League. Many West Ham fans are already tipping Kouyate to be the team's new linchpin.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- W Ham 0-1 Palace (PL, Apr 14)
- Palace 1-0 W Ham (PL, Dec 13)
- W Ham 0-0 Palace (Ch, Feb 12)
- Palace 2-2 W Ham (Ch, Oct 11)
- Palace 1-0 W Ham (Ch, May 04)
Stand-in Millen insists the uncertainty surrounding the club should not be used as an excuse when the clock hits 3pm on Saturday and that the players remain focused, saying:
"On the training field it's been fine, when we start work they're serious, they're focused. It's not ideal, they're waiting to see which direction the club is going in, but the players are focused. I don't think it weakens us, they're the same group of players, they trust me. We've done our homework on West Ham as we know we've got a tough game - there's no excuses."
As Pulis was fast becoming a hero at Selhurst Park in the closing months of the 2013/14 season, Allardyce’s West Ham continued on a downward spiral. His team must find a way to win if he is to please the pessimistic Hammers fans, many of whom have criticised him from the beginning of his tenure.
Facts and figures
- Palace conceded twice from set-pieces in their opening game, one more than they did in the whole of Tony Pulis' regime (excludes penalties).
- West Ham haven't lost their opening 2 Premier League games since 2010/11, a season in which they were relegated from the division.
- Marouane Chamakh conceded 11 fouls on the opening weekend of the season, more than 10 of the 20 Premier League teams did in total.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
West Ham to eke out a 1-0 win to cap a tumultuous week in south-east London.