The FourFourTwo Preview: Aston Villa vs Crystal Palace
A Boxing Day slugfest between two teams struggling for goals.
Aston Villa have only managed 17 goals in 17 Premier League games this season - two less than Luis Suarez alone - and have failed to score in three of their last five. Paul Lambert's team have failed to score in 47% of their league games this season, losing their last three games in a row in the process.
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Stoke 2-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- Fulham 2-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- So'ton 2-3 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-0 S'land (Prem)
- Palace 0-3 Newcastle (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-1 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Norwich 1-0 Palace (Prem)
Crystal Palace, meanwhile, are one of only two teams to trump Villa in the 'goals-huh-what-are-they-good-for' stakes, with the division's lowest tally of just 11 goals all season, drawing blanks in 52.9 per cent of their games.
What's more, the only men who you might think could be relied on for goals on either team - Christian Benteke and Marouane Chamakh - will both be missing. Let's be honest: you've probably more chance of getting Richard Dawkins to sing Away in a Manger than there is of this game being a goalfest. But you never know.
Palace are in dire straits on the injury front, with 10 players confirmed out, Marouane Chamakh suspended and three others - Stuart O'Keefe, Kagisho Dikgacoi and Jonny Williams - all carrying knocks and therefore doubtful.
Villa are likely to be without the injured Benteke, Ron Vlaar and Joe Bennett, while Charles N'Zogbia (achilles), Ashley Westwood (suspended) and Jores Okore (knee) are definitely out.
Villa have badly struggled without Vlaar, losing all three games the defender has missed since picking up a calf injury, and have looked increasingly shaky at the back without him.
Player to watch: Adrian Mariappa (Palace)
Ladies and gents, meet the new Rory Delap. His name is Adrian Mariappa. Usually a centre-back, where he played for Reading last season and in the early stages of this season under Ian Holloway, Mariappa has thus far featured as a right-back for Tony Pulis' Palace. Holloway dropped the Jamaican after the 4-1 defeat to Fulham, but Pulis has come in and restored Mariappa to the team in a new position.
What's more, Pulis seems to have appointed Mariappa as heir to the throne (get it) of long throw expert Delap, whose death-grip hands and missile launcher-like throwing technique propelled a thoroughly ordinary, functional player into the hearts and minds of the nation's conscience.
Returning to the team in the win against Cardiff, Mariappa took 11 of Palace's 34 throws, launching two of them into the box in an attempt to cause the kind of chaos Stoke were renowned for in the old days under Pulis.
Against Chelsea, Mariappa again winged another three long throws into the opposition area. Since his recall the right back has taken 29 throws in three games. Before Pulis he'd taken 19 all season. Expect Delap version 2.0 to be relied on for direct throws into the box at Villa Park.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Villa 3-1 Palace (FAC, Feb 10)
- Palace 2-2 Villa (FAC, Feb 10)
- Palace 2-0 Villa (Prem, Jan 05)
- Villa 1-1 Palace (Prem, Sep 04)
- Villa 3-0 Palace (LC, Dec 03)
Tony Pulis has won two and lost three of his opening five games at Selhurst Park. Gradually he is reshaping the side and doing a decent job: Palace were very unlucky not to pick up points at Stamford Bridge after a stellar performance against Chelsea, but were poor against Newcastle at the weekend, losing 3-0.
No Chamakh is a big blow for Pulis, denying him the chance to persist with Axis Jerome-Chamakh up front.
Paul Lambert is struggling. Injuries have been unkind to him, with Villa missing Jores Okore, Vlaar and a fit Benteke in particular, but their performances have been lacking inspiration this season.
The pressure is beginning to increase on the manager. For him, this is must-win.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Villa have failed to score in 4 of their last 5 Premier League home games, and have the worst home record this season.
- There have been at least 3 goals in 6 of their last 10 home games against bottom-six clubs.
- They are very slow starters and have scored just 1 first-half goal in their last 12 Premier League matches.
- Despite Crystal Palace’s resurgence under Tony Pulis, only Sunderland have picked up as few points as the Eagles on their travels (3).
- They were unlucky last time out at Chelsea, but have still lost 7 of their 8 away matches.
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A tight game, but a host of injuries and no Chamakh proves a bridge too far for Palace. Villa nick it 1-0.