December 25, 2014

Rumours continue to swirl around Southampton starlet Sadio Mane, who will be the focal point of the Saints' attack ahead of Saturday's trip to Selhurst Park to face Alan Pardew's Crystal Palace.

Mane is tied for eighth in the Premier League with 17 total shots, though he has scored just three times after his 10-goal haul last year for Ronald Koeman's side brought the league's big spenders calling to St Mary's. The latest from the English tabloids have Manchester United swooping in for the Senegalese sensation after their humiliating exit from the Champions League in the group stage.

The goals, though, have dried up in the partnership between Mane and Graziano Pelle - who have failed to score in their last three matches - with the Saints losing twice before sparing their blushes with substitute Oriol Romeu's equaliser in the second half of a 1-1 home draw with last-place Aston Villa last Saturday.

"For us in the last few weeks, some defeats, maybe a little bit of a lack of confidence," Koeman said.

Koeman used Romeu off the bench along with former Malaga man Juanmi, a major flop after signing a four-year contract with the Saints (5-6-4).

"We know it's two players with qualities," Koeman said. "Juanmi maybe a little bit more difficult in his situation to adapt really to the Premier League, but he needs time and he's a talented player and he showed his qualities when he came in. Oriol we know it's a defensive holding player and he brought aggression from the midfield and that's fantastic."

Juanmi may soon be dumped back to the Costa del Sol, according to Spanish outlets.

Southampton are safely ensconced in 12th place, though any hopes of returning to Europe seem beyond their grasp.

That's in stark contrast to Pardew's high-flying Palace (7-2-6), who are sixth on 23 points. Cut in the image of their defiant boss, the Eagles have committed 195 fouls for the league's second-highest total as part of a defence fifth-best in the top flight that has allowed 15 goals. Opponents have scored with just 5.4 percent of their shots against Palace this season for the league's lowest opponent conversion rate.

That doesn't mean that there isn't effervescent football being played once the Palace faithful are finished singing "Glad All Over" at full voice to greet their charges. Yannick Bolasie has been sublime in pulling the strings in the midfield and Wilfried Zaha will return from suspension after being booked for diving in a 5-1 rout of Newcastle United on Nov. 28.

Zaha missed out on Monday's thrill-a-minute 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park. Scott Dann headed Palace into the lead in the 76th minute before the home side deservedly struck back for a point.

"We're really pleased because even the draw takes us to sixth with a home game to come," Pardew said. "And that's how you have to approach this game, take what you can sometimes."

Mane scored in each fixture as Southampton did the double on Palace last season. The Saints have won seven straight league meetings in the Premier League and Championship by a 12-1 scoring margin.

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