The FourFourTwo Preview: Swansea vs Crystal Palace
The Battle of the Birds both hovering above the drop-zone.
Much has changed since the Eagles and the Swans last locked, erm, beaks in September. Already four games into their Europa League campaign, a 2-0 win for Michael Laudrup's League Cup winners at Selhurst Park pushed them up to 9th - their highest position of the season.
- Napoli 3-1 Swansea (EL)
- Liverpool 4-3 Swansea (Prem)
- Swansea 0-0 Napoli (EL)
- Everton 3-1 Swansea (FAC)
- Stoke 1-1 Swansea (Prem)
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Palace 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Palace 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Wigan 2-1 Palace (FAC)
The defeat saw Crystal Palace slip into the relegation zone, but just five games into the new Prem season there was still plenty of goodwill coming Ian Holloway's way after the Eagles' gaffer had taken the unfancied Londoners up from the Championship.
Five months on, it's Garry Monk vs Tony Pulis. While such a managerial match-up doesn't quite have the same appeal, right now the bosses in the boardroom of both clubs will feel they made the right call in wielding the axe mid-season. Stuffing your biggest Welsh rivals 3-0 was the perfect start to Monk's time in charge of Swansea, and following two tough Merseyside trips - which both ended in defeat - he'll be pleased to be back on home soil.
Despite the 4-3 loss at Anfield, Monk will take many positives from the game, with his charges showing real character to twice come from behind, while Wilfried Bony again proved a menace in and around the box, the Ivorian's strike making it 18 goals for the season.
While it's too early to cast any real judgement on Monk's managerial credentials, there can be no debate over the appointment of Pulis.
Arsene Wenger called it "the impossible job" when Pulis took over in November with his side six points from safety, but he's worked miracles to take them up to 16th, just two points behind Swansea (with a game in hand) as the Welsh manager targets his 8th win in 16 games.
Off the pitch, the Selhurst Park fax machine has had a busy week. Jason Puncheon was charged over his Twitter posts made in relation to Neil Warnock last month, while the FA are to investigate the Palace fans who threw coins at Wayne Rooney in last Saturday's loss.
Palace will be keen to avoid any similar controversies between now and the season's end as Pulis looks to keep everyone at the club focused on his primary goal: reaching that magic 40-point mark.
Tiredness from the trip to Italy could play a big part in Monk's selection. Jonjo Shelvey should be available, having missed the gutsy defeat against Napoli with a hamstring injury. Sunday will be too soon for Michu, however. The Spanish talisman, out since December with an ankle injury, should be training next week.
For the visitors, Pulis hopes to have Jerome Thomas available following a back strain the winger suffered in the win against West Brom on February 8.
Player to watch: Tom Ince (Palace)
Named joint-No.1 in FFT's Football League Top 50 last year, a leap to the top-flight for the former Liverpool trainee seemed inevitable - although his decision to go on loan to Palace last month instead of Sunday's opponents raised a few eyebrows. By deploying a deeper defence than his predecessor, Pulis' plan for his side is to soak up the pressure before hitting the opposition on the break, so it's not hard to see why he was so chuffed to get Ince until the end of the season. The flying winger never stopped running against Man United, getting more crosses into the opposition box than any of his team-mates (6 of Palace's 22).
The 22-year old has been rather outspoken about their next opponents, saying: "Swansea play nice football and did well against Napoli - but will they be able to handle the threat we give them with Glenn Murray, Marouane Chamakh, Cameron Jerome, Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon and myself? They will want to play their fluid type of football and be expansive, but look at the number of times we counter-attacked West Brom.
"It's different when you play Manchester United because they keep the ball so well. Swansea play a similar game but are probably not as effective - they haven't got the Wayne Rooneys and Robin van Persies who, when you do give them the space, will kill you off. We have to nullify what Swansea do and then play our own game. I'm sure Swansea won't be able to handle what we do."
Such big talk is worthy of his old man, but Ince Jnr's words may come back to haunt him come Sunday evening - especially considering he's unwittingly written Monk's pre-match team-talk.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Palace 0-2 Swans (Prem, Sep 13)
- Swans 3-0 Palace (Ch'ship, Jan 11)
- Palace 0-3 Swans (Ch'ship, Oct 10)
- Palace 0-1 Swans (Ch'ship, Feb 10)
- Swans 0-0 Palace (Ch'ship, Dec 09)
Interim player-manager Monk may have the clunkiest job title in the Prem, but as a former stalwart of the Swans' dressing room he's certainly got the support of his players (indeed he still celebrates goals as if he's out on the pitch). With their epic Europa League adventure finally over - 12 games played, and they were still six away from the final - if Monk can avoid a nail-biting end to the league campaign, the 34-year-old could yet be handed a permanent managerial contract by Swans chairman Huw Jenkins.
Whetever the next dozen games bring for Pulis, his reputation as a fire-fighter has been enhanced further since taking the hot-seat at Selhurst Park.
Should he keep Palace up, the Eagles' biggest headache could be keeping hold of him next term. The club shop will certainly be hoping he sticks around, seeing as he advertises half their stock come matchday.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Swansea are unbeaten at home this season against teams below the current top seven with all 4 of their wins coming to nil and by at least 2 clear goals.
- Palace have scored just 5 away goals this season and are the only side not to have scored more than once in an away game.
- Palace have lost 0-2 in 5 of their last 11 away games.
- 5 of Swansea’s 6 home wins against bottom-half teams since the start of last season have come after drawing the first half.
Best Bet: First Half Draw @ 2.25
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Although exhausted after their European exploits, Swansea's firepower will have Ince eating his words. 2-1.