12:30 BST, Saturday 5th May, bet365 Stadium (Stoke, England) Sky Sports
With only one win from the 17 league fixtures to have passed since Christmas, Stoke are in trouble. They have stemmed a destructive run of defeats with three consecutive draws, however; they are desperately in need of a win this weekend if they want a realistic chance of survival in their final match.
Defeat against Palace might not be enough to mathematically seal their fate if other results go their way but their goal difference tells a different story, especially for a team with only four goals to show from their last eight games.
The Eagles showed last weekend what the power of a win can provide. From the edge of the relegation zone, victory pushed Palace to a nose-bleed inducing 11th position and a total of 38 points which looks likely to be enough to guarantee their safety.
Roy Hodgson will not want to leave anything to chance, however, and a win this weekend will break the 40 point barrier before the final round of games, something which seemed a wild fantasy when they had four points back in mid-November.
Last Time Out
Liverpool 0-0 Stoke City (Premier League)
The Potters put in a brave performance that restored pride amongst their supporters but failed to deliver a vital win. The Stoke players could definitely not be accused of lacking in effort as they left Anfield following what was a spirited and energetic display.
The defence worked hard to suppress the Reds attack after they surprisingly made few changes between their two semi-final ties in the Champions League.
While Peter Crouch returned to the starting lineup alongside Mame Biram Diouf in a rare two-pronged attack for Stoke, the forwards proved to be the team’s weakest links.
With control evading them at the wrong moments in the match, their hard work went unrewarded in the Liverpool half. Stoke had more chances than their statistic of one from five chances on target suggests, however, there was relief when Danny Ings second-half goal was ruled out for off-side and there were scares for both teams in a match that ultimately deserved to end tied.
Crystal Palace 5-0 Leicester City (Premier League)
The Eagles delivered a devastating blow to the Foxes with an emphatic victory that gave Hodgson’s men their biggest win of the season.
There was only one team who began this match looking likely to upset the scoreboard and Wilfried Zaha proved just that in the 17th minute. It was a well-worked team goal finished off by the makeshift striker, Yohan Cabaye orchestrating play before James McArthur rolled the ball into Zaha’s path.
There was several stand-out performers for the Eagles, however, McArthur perhaps shaded his colleague’s with an impressive all-round display. He turned provider to scorer in the 38th minute, sending the Eagles into the break with a comfortable lead.
With Leicester reduced to 10-men soon into the second half, there remained no doubt regarding the fate of this result. The Eagles third goal didn’t arrive until the 81st minute but it snapped the Foxes will and saw a ruthless finish to the game by a team now looking assured of retaining their top-flight status.
Stoke City Lineup
Bruno Martins Indi (groin) will not feature after limping out of last weekend’s match against Liverpool, while Konstantinos Stafylidis (rib) Glen Johnson (groin) and Eric Choupo-Moting (knock) remain sidelined from their respective injuries. Lambert may well opt to continue with 2 strikers in the more-attacking 4-4-2 formation he deployed against Liverpool with the Potters knowing they need goals to survive.
Crystal Palace Lineup
Scott Dann (knee) Bakary Sako (ankle) Jason Puncheon (knee) and Connor Wickham (fitness) all remain sidelined for the Eagles, however, Hodgson has no further worries on the injury front. The resounding win over Leicester also means he’s unlikely to make any unforced changes to his lineup.
Key Battle: Jack Butland (Stoke City) vs Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Once considered the heir to the England goalkeeping jersey, Butland has fallen from favour with a season to forget. Although a return to form last weekend helped shut out Liverpool, a string of costly errors have hindered the Potters chances in recent weeks.
This has not stopped his name being linked with a host of top clubs and while his England dreams may now be hanging by the smallest of threads, a good showing against Palace will put him firmly in the window for this summer’s transfer market.
If Butland is to keep a clean sheet, he will need to snuff out the danger of a striker currently oozing with confidence.
The Eagles talisman continues to flourish this season, a point proven by Palace losing only 3 of the 21 league matches Zaha's started compared to losing all 10 games in which he was missing. With 4 goals and 2 assists from his last 6 appearances, Zaha is in deadly form ahead of a game Stoke desperately need to maintain a clean sheet.
A grain of comfort
Amongst the scattering of players able to finish Stoke’s season with an element of personal pride in their own performances, Moritz Bauer is one. The 26-year-old right-back has impressed since his January arrival at the club and has played no small part in helping Paul Lambert tighten up the Potters ailing defence.
Having also been used in a more attacking role on the right wing in recent weeks, the Swiss defender has proven his versatility. He has also spoken up this week about wanting to stay and help the club rebuild in the future if the unmentionable happens and Championship football becomes a reality.
Given the aloof attitude that has blighted the Stoke dressing room in recent months, this will be welcome news to ears of the fans and management alike.
The Blue Eagle
The untimely injury to Ruben Loftus-Cheek at the end of 2017 appeared to have ruined his chances of representing England this summer. A man-of-the-match performance against Germany a month earlier helped catapult his star in the public eye only for a serious ankle injury to derail his season.
Having slowly returned to full fitness, Loftus-Cheek stormed back in style with a captivating performance against Leicester last weekend. While many of the players hoping to play for their national team will approach these final league games with a hint of caution, The Chelsea loanee will look to prove he is back in peak condition.
This added emphasis in his play can only help Palace in what could prove to be his final two matches for the club and it could also prove tempting for Gareth Southgate if Loftus-Cheek can show he’s free of fatigue and bursting with form.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-2 Crystal Palace
This game has a good chance of being open due to Stoke’s heavy need to secure victory and Palace’s ability to spring quickly on the break. Despite the Eagles good form of late, they’ve still struggled on the road and the Potters run of draws could well continue in this match to all but seal their fate for the season.
Do you think Stoke can stay up? Let us know in the comments section below.