Tactics writer Sam Tighe looks ahead to the crunch clash between Southampton and Crystal Palace at St Mary's in the Premier League.
What’s the mood at Crystal Palace for the run-in?
Crystal Palace used the March international break to make a change in the dugout, welcoming back Roy Hodgson for the home stretch in an attempt to arrest their alarming form.
Having not won a game since November, he immediately got them on the right track: they beat Leicester City at home thanks to a last-minute winner, then scored five at Elland Road to put Leeds United to the sword.
Having picked up just five points from their last 12 games before Hodgson returned, they’ve now picked up six from two. There’s a confidence and happiness to the group that was missing beforehand as they fight the same survival fight as Saints.
Which players have stood out during this transformative period?
The old cliché would suggest that Hodgson puts defensive organisation first, but while they have indeed been solid at the back these last two games, the real story has been how the attack has suddenly flown.
They’ve absolutely racked up shots on goal – 47 across the two matches – and that was without star forward Wilfried Zaha for most of it. Their Expected Goals (xG) totals vs Leeds (3.0) and Leicester (2.3) are the highest and third-highest for the entire season.
Hodgson has unlocked this by unleashing the dribblers in his team: Palace completed 34 dribbles against Leeds, which broke a Premier League record. Eberechi Eze, who had only started one of the last eight games pre-Hodgson, managed nine, while Michael Olise made six.
Olise’s impact from the right flank is one to be particularly wary of; his hat-trick of assists at Elland Road means he’s in great form, and his ability to cut in and cross or ride the defender’s challenge and hit the byline makes him tough to read.
How can Saints trouble them?
It’s important to set a level of intensity that will disrupt Palace’s playmakers and dribblers. Once Olise got into his groove at Elland Road there was no stopping him, so it’s Saints’ task to make his afternoon much more frustrating this time around.
That plays into Ruben Sellés’s style, as he continually asks for a great energy to Southampton’s performances, hopefully leading to forced mistakes and turnovers.
On the attacking side, there’s a good argument to be made for a game plan built on crossing: Leeds caused plenty of problems by getting the ball into the box whenever possible, with their lone goal in the game coming from a corner.
Saints can also opt to match fire with fire, unleashing their own dribbling threats in the hope of cracking Palace’s system open or winning free-kicks in dangerous areas.
Predicted XI (4-3-3): Johnstone; Ward, Andersen, Guéhi, Mitchell; Eze, Doucouré, Schlupp; Olise, Édouard, Ayew.
- Ayew has stepped in for the injured Zaha and been very productive
- Eze is a dribbling machine who marauds through the centre of the park
- Olise boasts a dangerous delivery either from open play or set-pieces
- Doucouré does the tough work in midfield in order to provide balance
- Guéhi is a young but impressive and vocal part of a no-nonsense backline