Inside Track: Crystal Palace

By SFC Media time Tue 02 Jan Saints v Crystal Palace
Photo by Getty Images

We get the lowdown on tonight's South London opponents from Evening Standard Football Correspondent Giuseppe Muro.

How would you sum up the Palace season so far?

Palace made an awful start under Frank de Boer and he was sacked just four games into a three-year contract. They turned to Roy Hodgson and, after defeat against Southampton in his first game in charge and then heavy losses at Manchester City and Manchester United, they have started to pick up results and climb the table.

They went eight games unbeaten before Christmas and that run lifted them out of the relegation zone for the first time this season. Palace still face a fight to stay up but they are a different team to the one that played Southampton in Hodgson’s first game in September, and if they continue to play like they have done in recent weeks they should be fine.

Who will be Palace's key men tonight?

Wilfried Zaha. The winger has at time this season looked like a player on a personal mission to rescue Palace and he is often the spark that ignites the team. He is at the heart of most good things Palace do and he gives them energy and invention.

Zaha is always positive with the ball and the Southampton defence will need to keep a close eye on him. There has been some debate recently about whether Zaha dives and goes to ground too easily, which in my view is unfair. He is so skilful that defenders get caught out and bring him down.

What impact has Roy Hodgson had on both the setup of the team, and morale in camp?

A lot of the work Hodgson does on the training ground is on the shape of the team and anyone who watched Palace hold Manchester City to a goalless draw on New Year’s Eve will have seen a team who is well-organised and players who know their roles in the side.

They play with a compact back four, with Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic sitting in central midfield and the two wide players doing a lot of work defensively. Wilfried Zaha is then given licence to support Christian Benteke up front.

Has the spirited performance against Manchester City provided an extra dose of confidence?

Yes, but Hodgson has a number of defensive injury problems tonight and it remains to be seen how much that Manchester City game took out of the players. They had to do a lot of running to stop City’s attack and the quick turnaround to tonight means they could still have tired legs.

Mamadou Sakho, a £26million signing from Liverpool last summer, is out with a calf injury and Scott Dann went off with a serious-looking knee injury against City. James Tomkins and Martin Kelly will start in central defence tonight. Right-back Joel Ward is also out.

Which Southampton players will Palace need to be wary of?

Manolo Gabbiadini. Hodgson is very knowledgeable on Italian football and he will have watched Gabbiadini play a lot in Serie A.


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