Crystal Palace host Southampton at Selhurst Park on Saturday in a Premier League clash between two sides looking to bounce back from disappointing defeats last weekend.
It has been a difficult start to the season for both sides, with the last round of Premier League fixtures providing little respite as Southampton were condemned to a last-minute defeat at home to Leicester City, whilst Crystal Palace fell away to Watford.
Palace’s defeat was their second in the first three games of their league campaign, whilst Southampton’s left them with two defeats and one draw so far and has Mark Hughes’ side languishing in 17th and potentially fearing for yet another tough season at the wrong end of the table.
Saturday’s match will be a clash between two struggling sides desperate to kick their season into gear and secure the all-important three points.
Crystal Palace began their Premier League campaign on a positive note with a 2-0 victory in a London derby away to newly promoted big spenders Fulham but have struggled to keep the momentum going since, losing 2-0 at home to Liverpool the following week before succumbing to a 2-1 setback away at Watford last weekend.
The Eagles have begun to mount a fightback since then, through victory over Swansea City in the Carabao Cup, as Roy Hodgson’s side earned a slender 1-0 win over the Championship side to advance to the third round on Tuesday night.
Southampton have endured a similarly tough start to their campaign. A solid start with a 0-0 draw at home to Burnley was followed by successive league defeats to Everton and Leicester City, as Mark Hughes’ side lost 2-1 in each match.
Like Palace, the Saints have since picked up their form with a midweek Carabao Cup victory, also winning 1-0 against Premier League rivals Brighton & Hove Albion to earn their place in the third round of the competition.
The two sides’ relatively similar form so far this season indicates a potentially tight affair with little between the two sides, and the previous meeting between the two teams serves to the same effect.
A New Years fixture between the sides in January at St Mary’s saw a Shane Long goal hand Southampton a lead which they carried through the majority of the match, before a late showing from Hodgson’s Palace saw the away side turn the game on its head.
Strikes from central midfield pair James McArthur and Luka Milivojevic secured a dramatic win for the Eagles at St Mary’s as Hodgson’s side ran out 2-1 winners, and the Saints will be looking to avenge the defeat on Palace’s home soil on Saturday.
With Southampton’s ongoing defensive struggles continuing to cost them points in the early stages of this season, all eyes will be on the Saints’ backline and their ability to deal with the Crystal Palace attack, namely frontman Wilfried Zaha.
The Palace forward opened his account at the first time of asking this season with a goal in the Eagles’ 2-0 win over Fulham on the opening weekend of the Premier League campaign. Zaha made it two goals in the first three games with another goal, albeit in vein, in Palace’s 2-1 defeat to Watford last weekend.
With Southampton leaking goals, Zaha is undoubtedly the man that Mark Hughes must instruct his defence to shackle at Selhurst Park on Saturday. The Saints conceded a sloppy last-minute winner from Leicester’s Harry Maguire in the 2-1 defeat last weekend and must tighten things up at the back if they are to nullify the pace and power of Zaha.
Summer signing Jannik Vestegaard was restored to the Southampton side last weekend to add greater solidarity to Mark Hughes’ backline and will be the man primarily tasked with shutting out Zaha as he drives at the heart of the Saints’ defence on Saturday.
Roy Hodgson has a relatively full squad to pick from on Saturday, with only long-term absentees Connor Wickham and Scott Dann still injured, each with cruciate ligament ruptures.
A number of fringe players such as Jason Puncheon and new signings Max Meyer and Cheikhou Kouyate were handed first starts of the season in the midweek Carabao Cup victory over Swansea City and could be in contention to keep their places.
Southampton, meanwhile, have a near-full-strength squad at their disposal after summer signings Jannik Vestegaard and Mohamed Elyounoussi returned to the fold against Leicester last weekend. Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is, however, suspended following his red card against the Foxes last time out.
Though there is much to suggest that this will be a tight match with little to choose between two sides who have struggled for consistency in the early phases of the season, it is Crystal Palace who should have the edge over Southampton who conceded a last-minute goal to lose against Leicester in such disheartening fashion last weekend.
Though Palace also suffered defeat last weekend, there is a sense of competitiveness and fight within the Eagles’ ranks this season, and with main man Wilfried Zaha still on board at Selhurst Park, Roy Hodgson should have enough in his armoury to guide the home side to victory on Saturday.
Score prediction: Crystal Palace 2-0 Southampton