Saints will head into their game against Crystal Palace with their heads held high following the midweek 0-1 victory over Palace’s nemesis, Brighton & Hove Albion, in the Carabao Cup. Having said that, a result is required to give the club a much-needed boost and lift some of the early pressure which has already started to build.
What we must remember is that the teams we have played so far this season finished 7th, 8th & 9th respectively last season, so it was never going to be an easy start.
Last week’s defeat at the hands of Leicester City, managed of course by Claude Puel, was somewhat undeserved considering it was a much better performance from the Saints. Mark Hughes will want to plug the defensive frailties which led to both goals, with the Foxes’ equaliser coming after a poor defensive header from Soares, and Maguire being allowed to shoot from distance which seemed to squirm through the defence.
Southampton had battled hard, with Redmond showing his attacking prowess and putting in a strong performance, and Ings continuing to impress with some neat link-up play which always looked a threat. It was always going to be a tough game against a dogged Leicester team though, which was only made harder following the dismissal of Hojbjerg, and in the end we just couldn’t see the game out.
As Southampton move into their fourth league game of the season, they currently sit 17th in the league, with only goal difference keeping them above Huddersfield and Burnley, who were Saints’ first opponents of this season. It’s far too early to be looking at tables though, as an away win for the red and white army, twinned with results going “our way” elsewhere, will see us climb up the table and away from the danger zone.
Mark Hughes is presented with a strong squad ahead of the trip to Sellhurst Park, without any injuries to worry about, so the only absentee is the suspended Hojbjerg (unless of course someone takes a knock in training in the next few days).
Alex McCarthy will surely return in goal for the Saints, despite a clean sheet and strong display from Gunn in the midweek victory over Brighton. It’s also likely that Hughes will stick to the 4-4-2 formation, so the question will be who will replace the suspended Hojbjerg in centre midfield? The obvious choice would be Romeu to provide his solid, defensive cover, although Armstrong may be deployed in the centre after an impressive pre-season. We could possibly see James Ward-Prowse slotted in, who can provide a big threat with his set pieces.
The next big decision would be which two strikers to play up front, as the Saints look to find the back of the net for the third game running. Ings will surely be the first-choice striker, which leaves the battle of the other forwards to partner him up top. Gabbiadini and Ings is, on paper, a mouthwatering combination, whilst Long can provide the hard work and effort to open up space for Ings, and let’s not forget Charlie Austin who scored in the week and is always a goal threat. All will be hungry to get the ball in the back of the net, which is a very nice headache for Mark Hughes to have.
Crystal Palace will be looking for their first home points of the season, having only played once at home so far and that was in a 0-2 loss against Liverpool. Just like Saints, they will be coming into the game with a win under their belt after beating recently relegated Swansea by a goal to nil at the Liberty Stadium in the Carabao Cup, and again just like Southampton they narrowly lost at the weekend, with the impressive Watford grounding the Eagles.
They do, however, have a win to their name already, and that was in the opening game of the season where they scored two and kept a clean sheet against newly promoted Fulham, in front of the excited Craven Cottage faithful.
The Eagles will be without Tomkins, Souare, Williams, Wickham & Dann as they are all nursing injuries, but they will also be without the very talented youngster Aaron Wan-Bissaka who is still suspended following his sending off against Liverpool
The main danger man, without a doubt, is Wilfried Zaha who already has 2 goals to his name this season. The Ivory Coast international was heavily linked with big money moves away from Selhurst Park in the summer, but stayed with his boyhood club and even put pen-to-paper on a new, long-term contract after the transfer window closed.
Zaha is now the Eagles’ all time top Premier League goal scorer with 24 goals, surpassing Chris Armstrong’s record of 23 last weekend at Vicarage Road. He will be keen to add another goal to that tally at the weekend, and will be a threat to Southampton’s defence which has looked fragile on a number of occasions this season.
Luka Milivojevic will look to control the game from midfield, and has already put in solid displays this season, registering 140 passes in three games. He has also won the most successful tackles for the Eagles so far this season, and has had their second amount of touches with 188, only 3 behind Patrick Van Aanholt.
The Serbian was also their top goal-scorer last season with 10 goals, so will be a key figure in this weekend’s game.
Palace are a difficult team to break-down, and that is mainly due to the presence of Mamadou Sakho. The Frenchman was linked with a move to the Saints following the departure of Van Dijk, but that move never materialised and instead he was London-bound to Roy Hodgson’s side, and what a difference he made to them.
Sakho’s presence was noticeable, with Palace only losing 5 games in the 19 that he played following his switch from Liverpool. With Sakho in defence last season the Eagles conceded an average of 1.1 goal per game, which is an impressive statistic considering they were at one point in the season destined for relegation. So whoever we have in attack, they will have their work cut out to get past the huge figure from France.
This is going to be no easy task for Mark Hughes and his men, and I expect it to be a very tight game. As well as being strong on the pitch, Palace also have a very vocal home following, so our travelling fans will need to be in full voice for the full 90 minutes to keep pushing Saints to victory.
I asked my six year old what the score will be, and she confidently replied “Six-nil to Saints”; I’m not so confident! However, I do think we will come away from Selhurst Park with a 2-1 victory.
Southampton will need to start the game on the front foot, and an early goal will settle the game down for us. We can then soak up some pressure whilst Palace look for the equaliser and we have the ability to hit them on the break and grab a second. That will really force the Eagles to push for a goal and I think they are likely to score, but I can see us standing firm and coming away with a vital victory to kick-start September!