Crystal Palace host Leicester City on Saturday in a clash which could be of huge importance to the home side’s bid for Premier League safety.
Roy Hodgson’s team currently sit six points clear of the relegation zone, although 18th-placed Southampton have a game in hand on the Eagles.
Victory against Claude Puel’s Leicester side is surely a must if Palace are to haul themselves further clear of danger, with each of the next four sides below them in the table having a game in hand. Saturday’s match provides a big opportunity to strengthen their position of safety.
Leicester’s season is drawing to a steady, if rather subdued, close. The Foxes reside in ninth in the table, with a six-point gap between themselves and Bournemouth in 11th seemingly assuring Puel’s team of a top half finish in the Premier League.
Since suffering a 2-1 defeat at home to Liverpool at the end of March, Crystal Palace have steadily regained a level of form which should continue to ensure their position in the Premier League is safe for another season.
A 2-2 draw away to a well-performing Bournemouth side earned a good point for Roy Hodgson’s men, albeit they suffered a last minute Joshua King equaliser for Eddie Howe’s side which denied the Eagles a near-victory and two additional points which were much needed.
Hodgson’s side clearly took the positives from that draw against the Cherries, as they returned to Selhurst Park to earn three crucial points against Brighton, running out 3-2 winners in a goal-laden encounter.
Last weekend’s 0-0 draw away to Watford continued to build a steady succession of results and an accumulation of points which are beginning to pull Palace further clear of danger.
Leicester are enduring a somewhat unspectacular end to their league campaign, with a hit-and-miss run of form recently very much epitomising what has been an indifferent season of mid-table obscurity at the King Power.
A 2-1 FA Cup quarter final defeat at home to Chelsea brought a disappointing end to any true significance for the remainder of Leicester’s season, with securing a top-half finish now the only real goal for Claude Puel’s side in the final phases of their campaign.
Since that cup exit, a 2-0 victory over Brighton was followed by a 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle, a suffering of the same deficit away to Burnley the following week, and most recently a 0-0 stalemate at home to Southampton.
With tough clashes against London trio West Ham, Arsenal and Tottenham still to come in the remainder of the season, Leicester will be keen to return to winning ways against Crystal Palace to restore some pride for Puel’s side.
Crystal Palace’s need for victory in Saturday’s match is undoubtedly greater than Leicester’s, and Roy Hodgson can take great encouragement from the reverse fixture this season at the King Power Stadium in December.
The South London side stormed Leicester with a 3-0 away win on that occasion, as goals from Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako claimed the three goals and three points for the Eagles. Wilfred Ndidi’s red card for Leicester compounded a bad day for the home side.
Leicester can be encouraged by having been marginally dominant in possession with 57 percent of the ball in that encounter, although their productiveness was bettered by Palace, who managed six shots on target compared to Leicester’s two.
Saturday’s match could well be decided by which side’s attacking focal point is able to have a greater impact on the game.
Wilfried Zaha has been Crystal Palace’s standout performer this season, with his strong and willing runs and penetrating of the opposition with his pace and power often providing his side’s key attacking outlet.
Jamie Vardy has likewise been Leicester’s most reliable and depended upon point of attack. Vardy continues to lead from the front for his side, scoring 17 goals for Leicester which, along with the sparkling moments of brilliance from Riyad Mahrez, have been the brightest aspects of play at the King Power this season.
Zaha and Vardy’s games rely similarly on powerful and pacey runs beyond the opposition’s defence to provide an out-ball and focal point in attack for their sides.
Whilst much will depend on which side dominates the game on Saturday from midfield, and thereby which team can provide the most service to their frontmen, the score line will likely be decided by which of the two attacking stars can be most clinical in front of goal.
Roy Hodgson remains without four long-term absentees for his Palace team selection on Saturday. Striker Connor Wickham, defender Scott Dann and midfielder Jason Puncheon all remain sidelined due to cruciate ligament injuries, while Bakary Sako is also ruled out for the rest of the season.
Leicester, meanwhile, will have to make do without Daniel Amartey and Vicente Iborra, both of whom are absent from Claude Puel’s team with hamstring injuries, whilst Matty James continues to miss out due to achilles tendon problems.
Whilst Leicester will be hoping to claim a win which would help to prevent their largely unfulfilling season fizzling out with disappointment and concern over their inconsistent form, Crystal Palace’s need for victory is greater in their efforts to secure Premier League status.
Roy Hodgson’s side are enjoying the stronger recent form, and arguably pose the greater attacking threat at present. Their momentum from a decent run of recent results, a Zaha-led attack and their all-round desire to claw themselves well clear of the relegation zone should be enough to see Palace overpower Leicester on Saturday and give the Selhurst Park crowd reason to be even more vocal than usual in support of their team.
Score Prediction: Crystal Palace 3-1 Leicester