Southampton meets Crystal Palace on Saturday in the Premier League, not the league cup just yet, thankfully, and both clubs are looking for early season momentum.
With the frequency of the meetings between the two — 13 across all competitions since Southampton’s return to top-flight football — there’s no need for introduction of our guests and great friends from The Eagles Beak.
Let’s get stuck in to find out more about Saturday’s opponent.
St Mary’s Musings: Roy Hodgson has had a pre-season and summer to prepare the squad for the 2018/19 campaign after his appointment in September last year. How has that helped get the team in better shape?
The Eagles Beak: For once we have experienced a summer without any turmoil so fingers crossed we are better prepared for this season. The early signs are good, even though we have only managed one win from the opening three games, we are playing good football and should probably have added to our opening day win. In saying that, it’s a far cry from this time last season! This summer has allowed Hodgson to trim his squad of some of the fringe players (or dead wood as some would describe them) and make some quality additions which has provided some strength in depth rather than some players making up the numbers.
SMM: What are expectations for the squad this year now that the club has the man in charge that they want?
TEB: A top 10 finish but we are not kidding ourselves, that magic 40 point barrier is the initial aim, which proved more than enough last season. Then we can push on from there for a top 10 finish. It is incredible that we ended up in 11th last season when you look at the start we had so you have to look to improve each season. Having said that, a club like us has to be very careful, last season saw three established Premier League clubs lose their top flight status which is a real shot across the bow in our sixth consecutive Premier League campaign (a club record incidentally).
SMM: How might those differ from what fans are expecting and/or hoping to see?
TEB: I think fan expectation these days are so varied. Since Leicester City won the title, many think why that could not have been us and I don’t just mean Palace fans in that. Christ, Arsenal fans were probably thinking the same too! Expectations are so inflated these days from everything from the transfer market to how a club should perform in every game to how high a finish a club should finish. Everything is so immediate this days that going behind in a game is an immediate crisis across social media without any thought to how the game will pan out from there. Everyone wants their team to win things and achieve the best they can, and there is no doubt players, management and owners want the same too. It’s that impossible dream for so many though.
SMM: Keeping Wilfred Zaha through the summer window is obviously a massive boost. What would the squad have lost if he had left the club?
TEB: Wilf staying at Palace this summer cannot be underestimated, not only that, he signed a new deal! Arguably one of the best bits of business in the Premier League this summer. Not one Palace fan would have begrudged him a move this summer but he has had a taste of it in the past which turned out very bitter. Perhaps that had a big effect on him still being at Palace, a big fish in a little pond. For Wilf to play well and for him to be in the form of his life like we have seen for the last couple of season, he has to be loved. Whether he would get the same at one of the big six is questionable. Losing him would have hit us hard and for us, he is almost impossible to replace. That is why there was such a large transfer fee being talked about if he was to leave, he is almost irreplacable for us and we are absolutely chuffed that he has decided to stay (even if it turns out to be for one more season!).
SMM: What is the mood around Zaha’s camp in regards to staying with the club?
TEB: With the quality additions that have been made this summer as well as keeping Wilf, the mood among the squad is very good. The Palace media team are very good at sharing snippets from the training ground and the message has been strong heading into the new season. This is a good bunch of players who look to play good football. Wilf is a massive part of that but these players compliment each other.
SMM: Outside of Zaha, who will have a large impact on the club’s success this season?
TEB: We have high hopes for summer signing Max Meyer, a free transfer after the German was released by Schalke 04 - that remains to be seen but elsewhere Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a huge talent. Only played a handful of games but has made himself our number one right back after making his debut during our horrific injury crisis last season. There is something very special about seeing a youth player make his first team debut and go on to be a success.
SMM: Did the club properly address any deficiencies within the squad this summer? What areas still need help?
TEB: Goalkeeper was an issue and we signed Vicente Guaita to compete with Wayne Hennessey which is just what he needs. Right back was a problem until Wan-Bissaka made his debut. The striker option and squad depth was an issue last season but we have attempted to address both. If we were being critical , there is a question mark at centre back if we are to suffer injuries but we do have players that can step in if need be including new addition Cheikhou Kouyate (who incidentally, is a terrific addition with his Premier League experience).
SMM: From what you’ve seen of Southampton, what are outside perceptions of Mark Hughes as manager and do you feel our fortunes will be different this year?
TEB: From the outside looking in, Mark Hughes seemed an odd appointment considering his time at Stoke City who ended up going down. There is an argument that it was more luck than judgement that Southampton stayed up over the three went down but credit where credit is due, perhaps the new manager bounce was enough to see you through. I don’t see it as an appointment that will last but happy to be proved wrong. It just seems like the club have lost their way a little from all the great work that has one on before.
SMM: Is there a player amongst the Southampton side that will pose a concern for Palace this weekend?
TEB: Danny Ings. A player that we have been linked with more than once and a striker that is capable of winning games on his day. Hopefully he will have a stinker but this is a player that has returned to familiar surroundings and needs a fresh start so wish him well, just after this game!
SMM: Make a prediction of what three teams will be relegated from the Premier League based off the opening three games? Who will win the league - Is it still Manchester City’s title to lose or has another team impressed you?
TEB: Relegation - Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth. As for the title, City will not quite have it their own way and while Liverpool are likely to be their closest challengers, Pep should see his side home for a second title in succession.
SMM: Finally, a prediction for Palace and Saints?
TEB: We didn’t get what we perhaps should have done last weekend so hoping to see a reaction from the players this week with a 2-1 win for the Eagles.
We’d like to thank The Eagles Beak for taking the time to chat with us about all things Crystal Palace. You can follow them on Twitter at @TheEaglesBeak.