By Scott Hunt/ @scotthunt92
Southampton travel to Selhurst Park on Saturday afternoon in the knowledge that they have history on their side. Palace have never beaten the Saints in 12 Premier League encounters, losing eight of those clashes, and are one goal away from having conceded 100 league goals against the South Coast side.
Add to that the fact that Palace are far stronger away from home than they are at Selhurst Park and the smart money may well be on a Southampton win. Only bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa have lost more games at home than Palace this season, with their impressive league position built upon terrific away form.
But the Eagles do have current form in their favour. They have lost just one of their last five games, a run that has included valuable draws with Manchester United and Everton as well as a 5-1 home thrashing of Newcastle. In contrast, Southampton are winless in their last three but Ronald Koeman’s side are just two points behind Palace in sixth, despite sitting 12th in the table. They have drawn four games so far this campaign, a joint-highest total in the league along with Spurs and Everton, and are yet to beat a side currently in the top half of the table.
Palace manager Alan Pardew feels his squad are a match for any in the league and believes they are in the mix for the European places.
“The team’s as good as any,” Pardew told his pre-match press conference.
“I was really pleased with the result at Everton. They were in top form and we took something out the game.
“Wenger’s right. There are 8 teams who could make the CL. We’re probably on the fringes, ‘the ninth team.’ It’s a very tough league.
“It’s been a fantastic 2015 and we need to match this year next year. If we do, we could end up in the top six.
“But we’re a long way from there. We’ll start talking about that in March, if we’re close.
“I can only see the PL getting bigger. It’s a league that enthralls. That was shown by last weekend, you can’t predict one game!”
Scott Dann’s header against Everton last weekend backed up his superb defensive performances this season and renewed calls from his manager for an England call-up. A set-piece goal is a method of goalscoring that Palace have perfected this season, with 45% of their goals coming in that way – a league high number.
Six places separates the two sides but, in such a tight Premier League table, victory for Southampton would lift them above Pardew’s side. With the battle for the European places intensifying, matches such as this are crucial even at this relatively early stage of the season, heading into the packed Christmas period.
In the absence of Bakary Sako, more onus falls on winger Jason Puncheon to provide spark and incision from the wide areas. The former Saints man will be desperate to get one over his old side and fire Palace to their first Premier League victory over Southampton. He couldn’t be faulted for lack of effort this campaign but has attempted 28 shots, the most in the league, without scoring.
One man is the centre of all things good about the Southampton attack and that is Sadio Mane. The Senegal international has been linked with some of Europe’s top clubs and has an impressive record against the Eagles. He has scored in both his matches against them and in last season’s trip to Selhurst Park scored one and set up another. With six goals in all competitions to his name this season, Southampton will be hoping he can add to that tally and fire them to victory on Saturday.
Palace captain Mile Jedinak sustained an injury in training in midweek which rules him out this weekend while Dwight Gayle and Bakary Sako are both still ruled out through injury. Alex McCarthy will return to the bench where he is likely to be joined by Marouane Chamakh as Connor Wickham will lead the line once again.
Victor Wanyama is fit to play despite picking up an injury against Villa last weekend. There are no fresh injury concerns with long-term absentees Florian Gardos, Fraser Forster and Jay Rodriguez still missing. Graziano Pelle is set to continue up front despite scoring just once in his last six games.
Crystal Palace 2-1 Southampton