12:30 KO (BST); Saturday 16th September; Selhurst Park (London, England) Sky Sports
The first axe has fallen and, as the dust settles, the Eagles are left with another ex-England manager. For whatever reasoning, Frank de Boer has now gone and in his place is the much maligned, 70-year-old figure of Roy Hodgson.
With the three fixtures following this game being Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, Hodgson will need a positive result at home to the Saints to avoid the real possibility he too could start his South London tenure with four consecutive defeats.
Ever the pragmatist, Hodgson will no doubt repeat the mantra he used at West Brom of primarily aiming to secure his side’s Premier League status and a misfiring Southampton side could be the perfect tonic for his return.
While five points from four games seems a reasonably good return for the Saints, they were expected to claim more during a favourable looking start to the fixture list highlights the manner in which they earned those points.
After being completely outclassed by Watford, fears on the South coast are looking validated.
Facing another fixture they will be expected to win, Southampton take on a side who have an even more dismal scoring record than their own but will need to be careful in avoiding the trappings of new-manager-bounce from their rivals this weekend.
Last time out
Burnley 1 – 0 CRYSTAL PALACE
Frank de Boer’s final match in charge of the South Londoners provided ample amounts of hope for a future improvement which made the decision to replace him at the final whistle all the more confusing. While it was a ponderous start to the game which was worsened by a calamitous Lee Chung-yong back-pass in the second minute, Palace grew into the game and were ultimately unlucky to come away with no points to reward their efforts on the pitch.
At the heart of everything good for Palace was the mercurial Yohan Cabaye. Pulling the strings from the centre of the field, Cabaye made five interceptions and two clearances to help out his side from Burnley’s incessant probing. It was going forward that the Frenchman truly flourished, winning all of his take-ons, creating three chances and taking four shots on goal.
The only statistic which showed a need for improvement was his crossing with five of his eight balls from the right wing being intercepted. Perhaps if his teammates had been more aggressive in their duels, this wouldn’t be a blemish on his or Palace’s record.
SOUTHAMPTON 0 – 2 Watford
Watford ran out easy winners from a match in which Southampton were lucky to only concede twice. Despite shading possession in the game, the Saints were again toothless in attack managing only one strike on goal, a speculative 30-yard shot from Cédric Soares in the 92nd minute.
With a disjointed display and little penetration, Southampton can have no real complaints about anything other than how they approached this fixture.
Much of their problems appear to stem from midfield with players not winning second balls and unable to combine in how they’ve shown themselves capable of performing in the past. With little creative flair in the centre of the pitch, James Ward-Prowse seemed unable to function behind Manolo Gabbiadini while the Italian hit-man often found space but unable to find an accurate pass from a teammate.
Nathan Redmond was as guilty as anyone, often ignoring an obvious pass to try a Hollywood move to only lose possession which will be a worrying problem for Pellegrino to sort out.
Crystal Palace Lineup
Wilfried Zaha (knee), Pape Souaré (fitness) and Connor Wickham (knee) will again miss out while James Tomkins (knock), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (groin) and Bakary Sako (knock) are facing a fight to be fit in time for kick-off.
A question still hangs above the availability of Mamadou Sakho who lacks match sharpness and has only played 45 minutes for the U23 side since his permanent move to South London.
Lacking match fitness, club captain Virgil van Dijk is the only player to be out of contention of a starting place this weekend while summer recruit and fellow Dutchman Wesley Hoedt could retain his place in central defence after starting ahead of Maya Yoshida last weekend.
Key Battle: Andros Townsend vs Cédric Soares
With Palace still needing to break their goal-duck this season, Townsend could be the creative player to get his team off the mark. While he is yet to set the Premier League on fire as a goal-scorer, his seven league assists last year and his selfless contributions to the team suggest he could be the catalyst rather than the main reason behind Palace’s first goal.
Townsend has already played under Hodgson for England and will know how his new manager wants him to play. However, Hodgson may keep his NASA space monkey jokes under wraps this time around.
Aiming to stop the flying winger in his tracks will be Cédric, a right-back who has rarely made the headlines but was rumoured to be close to joining Chelsea in a mooted deal this summer. While he often puts in solid but unspectacular displays for his team, he’s a well-respected footballer who has been one of the first names on the team-sheet for quite some time.
After last weeks off-colour performance against Watford when he was terrorised by the strong, direct running posed by Richarlison, Cédric will be keen to get back to his best and continue to provide the Saints with a tight defensive backline.
Success built on stability
Life hasn’t worked out quite the way Frank de Boer expected when he signed on the dotted line at the end of June.
After 77 days in South London to follow his 85 days in charge at Inter Milan, his reputation may have been further tarnished after his short stint in charge at Palace but he collected £5m, he has set a new Premier League record (in place of Les Reed’s seven games at Charlton) and furthermore; he appears to have garnered a large degree of sympathy.
The Eagles, however, are the party to come away from this whole affair really licking their wounds. With Hodgson being named their fourth full-time manager since this time last year, the club direly needs stability.
Having constantly flipped their style and approach to the game, Steve Parish appears intent to have his club play an attractive, attacking brand of football.
With the Ajax branded dream now lying in tatters, he will need to show more restraint in his approach if he’s to avoid the trap that Sunderland fell into with their constant search for a new manager whilst lingering near the foot of the table.
Bedding in period
With Mauricio Pellegrino expected to bring the energetic pressing style back to Southampton which proved fruitful for Ronald Koeman during his time at the club, the performance against Watford was at the opposite end of this spectrum and they were duly over-run in a one-sided match.
Another expected trait was the use of playing short, crisp passes, however, this too was missing in a game where the Saints often reverted to playing balls long which were easy for the Hornets to deal with.
While the Saints only added defensively minded players in the transfer window, the attacking members of their squad are yet to click into gear this season. All of this can be attributed to a change in philosophy within the playing style between Pellegrino and Claude Puel.
Pellegrino will be afforded more than four games to make his mark on the team, but he will know the evolution of the Saints needs to begin if he’s to deliver the attacking brand which he promised upon his arrival and prevent them slipping into trouble this season.
PREDICTION: Crystal Palace 1 – 0 Southampton
Southampton are a team who also struggle to score goals this season and this game is unlikely to be a free-flowing, high-scoring extravaganza. The Roy Hodgson ethos of function over fashion could be an ideal fit with the current squad he’ll find sitting in the dressing room.
With little room for things to get any worse, a point to prove by the Palace players could lead to three points gained for a team desperate to show their season won’t be a complete failure and a return to their favoured style of play could see the Eagles prosper.
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