By Scott Hunt/@scotthunt92
There’s a lot to smile about at Crystal Palace at the moment. Impressive form on the pitch sees them sitting pretty in sixth place in the Premier League table while good news also came off the pitch this week with the announcement that a pair of American billionaires are set to invest £100m into the club.
Manager Alan Pardew doesn’t expect the extra cash to help much in the transfer window with most of the money set to be spent on club infrastructure and in particular renovation of Selhurst Park. But it serves to add to the feel-good factor that has surrounded the club since former player Pardew took charge of the team back in January.
Palace travel to Stoke this weekend for a clash between two of the most in-form sides in the league. The Eagles have lost just one of their last six Premier League matches, winning three, and have their highest ever Premier League points total after 16 games. They are also formidable on the road, winning ten away games in the league since Pardew took charge and have conceded a league-equalling low of just six goals on their travels this season.
Mark Hughes’ Stoke have also hit form in recent weeks, built upon the strong foundations of a resilient defensive unit since the return from injury of captain Ryan Shawcross. Losing just twice in their last 11, they have kept seven clean sheets in their last nine games and haven’t conceded in the 497 minutes that Shawcross has played this campaign. With both teams at the peak of their defensive powers, this is perhaps set to be a low-scoring yet compelling encounter.
Pardew is pleased by the investment coming into the club and has challenged his squad to carry their good form into the New Year, starting with victory at Stoke.
“We are going to have to win on Saturday to secure our sixth place position for the time being,” the Palace boss told his pre-match press conference.
“We are focused on our job. Stoke will be a very attacking team, with a lot of flair. They will need to worry about us though.
“There isn’t much between us and Stoke – this will be a key fixture for us to secure sixth.
“In 2016, if we match the start of this season I’ll be very happy man.
“I’ve met the potential investors, they have a passion for this football club that reflects mine.
“I don’t think we’ll be doing too much business in January, maybe a few on loan. Our key players won’t be going anywhere.”
Both sides will be looking for a victory to continue their challenge for the European places. While Palace are five places above 11th placed Stoke, a victory for the Potters would draw them level on points with Pardew’s men, such is the competitiveness of the Premier League this year. With just six points separating Spurs in fifth and West Brom in 13th, clashes such as these could prove critical even at this relatively early stage of the season.
There are plenty of key men for Mark Hughes’ side, from the defensive leader that is Ryan Shawcross to the crucial flair players such as Bojan or Marko Arnautovic. But goalkeeper Jack Butland has been a standout performer throughout the season. The England international leads the way in the Premier League for saves to shot ratio and has kept the joint-highest total of seven clean sheets. Butland’s form is pressing his case to challenge Joe Hart as England’s number one keeper and will be a key man again for Stoke on Saturday.
Yohan Cabaye is the man who pulls the strings in the Palace midfield and was the match-winner last weekend with his strike against Southampton. The Frenchman has also scored four goals in four Premier League matches against Stoke and so will hope to be influential again on Saturday.
Stoke have a number of injury absentees heading into the game with Geoff Cameron, Marc Muniesa, Shay Given, Peter Odemwingie and Peter Crouch all still missing. Xherdan Shaqiri will undergo a late fitness test while Phil Bardsley and Stephen Ireland are also doubts.
Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak is facing a race against time to recover from an ankle injury, but fellow midfielder Joe Ledley is fit again. Pardew will also be without attacking players Bakary Sako and Dwight Gayle, meaning the onus will again fall on Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha to provide the flair.
Stoke 0-0 Crystal Palace