Southampton renews their rivalry with Crystal Palace and the meeting at St Mary’s comes at pivotal moment in the season for both clubs fighting for Premier League survival.
We caught up with our good friends at the Eagles Beak and contributor Sam Smith to get the lowdown on what has changed under manager Roy Hodgson and what it will take to for Saints and Palace to continue playing in the top flight.
St Mary’s Musings: Crystal Palace has also had their goal scoring woes at times. Is this down to not having the right personnel or not being able to convert opportunities?
The Eagles Beak: A mixture of both. It could also be put down to a tactical thing. Sam Allardyce built a system around Christian Benteke and he thrived but the football under Frank de Boer, and even now under Roy Hodgson, was so far removed from a system designed to ensure our biggest goal threat scores. Albeit Benteke has failed to perform as well as he did last season, he has struggled to hold the ball up and appears bereft of confidence. That penalty incident against Bournemouth probably didn’t help, but his rapport with the Palace fans has declined recently, too.
SMM: What has been different under Roy Hodgson as opposed to Frank de Boer?
TEB: Hodgson has simplified the football at Palace and it has proved a success. De Boer’s tactics were in their early days and he was not given a fair chance to implement them, but in his four league games the players seemed confused. The Dutchman comes under the ‘Cruyffian’ footballing umbrella thanks to his time at Ajax and Barcelona, and if you can imagine a poorer-quality Premier League attempting to play how Manchester City are currently playing, that was Palace at the start of the season. Disastrous. Hodgson has offered an arm round the shoulder to every player, while several players complained that de Boer was arrogant.
SMM: Saints defeat Palace last time out. What should we expect from the Eagles in this meeting?
TEB: A much better Palace. That meeting earlier in the season was Hodgson’s first game and he had not had time to assert his own philosophy on a squad that had just come out of four games and a full pre-season adapting to a completely different style under de Boer. We now have a much better back four, although will be missing both Mamadou Sakho and Scott Dann through injury so it’s most likely that Martin Kelly will partner the impressive James Tomkins in central defence. We attack much better, too, although Wilfried Zaha could be banned if the FA feel he dived to win the late penalty against Manchester City and his absence would certainly play into Southampton’s hands.
SMM: January is upon us — do you expect Palace to dig into their pockets and bring in reinforcements for the manager?
TEB: You would certainly hope so. We made four signings last January and we need just as many this year. Another striker would be the priority. Benteke is currently the only fit recognised centre forward at the club, which has not helped his form because he requires competition to properly thrive. A winger would also be nice because we become very predictable with Zaha and Andros Townsend. Julian Speroni and Wayne Hennessey are also in need of some competition in goal because there is a sense that Hodgson does not rate either, opting to rotate them. Possibly a young defender or midfielder, too, with a view to them pushing for a first-team place.
SMM: What three things must happen for Palace to avoid relegation?
TEB: Those signings mentioned would be a great start. We have had a few injuries recently so keeping key players fit would be the second most important thing. Staying up also requires a bit of luck and some shock results against the bigger clubs. Last season it was Palace and Swansea who stayed up because, while we beat the teams around us, we also picked up points against the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal which are beneficial.
SMM: From what you've seen of Southampton this season, what do you make of our situation?
TEB: I have really not seen enough to be able to pass comment in all honesty. It seems that there has not been a huge improvement on last season which begs the question of why Claude Puel was not given a bit longer to see if he can build a side that is a bit more exciting. I also feel that our two clubs might have mixed up our appointments. De Boer requires a good infrastructure, very technical players and a good academy for his philosophy to blossom, which I think Southampton offered more than us. Similarly, Mauricio Pellegrino’s style seems similar to Allardyce’s, which would have made for an easier transition due to our squad being more familiar with a more rigid system.
SMM: Who on Palace should we be concerned by?
TEB: Zaha, definitely, if he isn’t banned. I assume he will not be suspended because the Premier league have arranged these fixtures so poorly that there isn’t even enough time to blink, let alone allow the FA to review a ‘dive’ and ban a player, and then give the player/club a chance to appeal.
SMM: What player on Southampton could cause a problem for Palace?
TEB: Sofiane Boufal looks like someone who could cause us problems. He is effectively Southampton’s Zaha. Dusan Tadic has the ability to unlock a defence and you possess a goal threat in Manolo Gabbiadini, although he has not quite performed how he did last season.
SMM: Finally, a prediction?
TEB: A gritty, tired 1-1. Won’t be a classic.
We would like to thank Sam for taking the time to chat with us! You can follow him on Twitter @smithsamuel43, and be sure to check out the Eagles Beak.