This season in the Barclays Premier League has arguably been the most unpredictable in recent times, with three teams in for the title while two others fight for that precious fourth Champions League spot. But the tightest and perhaps the most exciting race happens at the foot of the table where as many as eight teams are unsure of which division they will play in next season. This Saturday, Tony Pulis and Crystal Palace face Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa at Selhurst Park, a fixture in which a win for either side would pretty much guarantee survival.
The Eagles have flown up the table, having hit a rich vein of form at the best possible time, following up a surprising but deserved 1-0 win over Chelsea with a comprehensive 3-0 win against Cardiff last weekend, which saw them climb up to 14th in the table with a game in hand over two of the bottom three. This game and two other winnable fixtures in West Ham and Fulham in the final day should make or break the Eagles’ season, having to face the likes of Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City in the coming weeks.
Despite their 3-0 success over Cardiff, Palace still have the worst attacking record in the league, but their tally of just 39 goals conceded is bettered only by Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City thus far. League leaders Liverpool have conceded one more goal than the Eagles this season. This is a testament to the remarkable defensive shape and organization instilled by Tony Pulis into the team.
Last weekend’s home defeat to relegation-threatened Fulham will have set the alarm bells ringing for Paul Lambert, who has now seen his side lose 3 games on the trot and concede 10 goals in those games. They are, however, still level on points with Saturday’s opponents Palace and also above them on goal difference, meaning that they also have a seven-point advantage over the bottom three. 3 points would see them move level with 11th-placed West Ham, which would be a massive result for the Midlands club.
However, that would require a turnaround in away form for the Villains, having not won any of their last five matches on the road, and just one of their last eight. Having said that, they have picked up as many points on their travels as they have done at Villa Park this season, so the prospect of playing away from home could be promising to a team that has lost their last two in front of their own fans.
Crystal Palace: DLDLWW
Aston Villa: LWWLLL
Possible starting lineups
Crystal Palace: Speroni; Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Puncheon, Jedinak, Dikgacoi, Bolasie; Ledley; Chamakh (4-4-1-1)
Aston Villa: Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bertrand; Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph; Weimann, Holt, Agbonlahor (4-3-3)
- Crystal Palace have won two and lost none of their four previous Barclays Premier League meetings with Villa at Selhurst Park.
- Aston Villa have only won one of their last eight Barclays Premier League meetings with the Eagles, drawing four and losing three.
- Palace have won an average of 1.35 points per game in the 20 Premier League games under Tony Pulis, compared to 0.58 in the previous 12 PL matches.
- Aston Villa have lost three successive games in the Premier League and could equal their worst run of defeats in the competition under Paul Lambert (four games in Dec 2013).
- Crystal Palace are attempting to win three successive Premier League matches for the first time since November 1994 (four games).
- Excluding Christian Benteke, Aston Villa’s squad have scored just 24 goals in 32 Premier League games this season (not counting own goals).
Tony Pulis will have an unlikely selection headache with a good number of striking options available at his disposal. Marouane Chamakh is back available while the scorer in the reverse fixture, Dwight Gayle, remains sidelined despite scoring five in a reserve fixture in midweek. Pulis confirmed Gayle would not start on Saturday, although he is hopeful to be able to choose from a fully fit squad.
Paul Lambert won’t be very happy with the number of injuries he’s having to deal with, at this stage of the season. Aston Villa will be without top scorer Christian Benteke after he tore his Achilles last week, while Karim El Ahmadi (thigh), Gabriel Agbonlahor (illness) and Fabian Delph (calf) are doubts and will need to be assessed prior to the game, after missing last week’s defeat to Fulham.
Mile Jedinak – Crystal Palace
Mile Jedinak has been instrumental at the heart of midfield for the Londoners, been a driving force and a vital cog in the engine that is punching above its weight of late. He might not have contributed in terms of goals or assists this season but he in many ways epitomizes what Tony Pulis’ football looks like. His work ethic and awareness is sorely underrated in my opinion and so is his distribution. He clocks an impressive figure here, when it comes to minutes per possession won (6) and has won the ball a combined amount of 217 times inside the midfield and defensive third. He’s attempted the most number of open play passes for Crystal Palace (1383) with 997 of them successful and a good 0.48 passes a minute. His composure and the ability to bring others into the game could be key to Crystal Palace’s chances to win the tie.
Gabriel Agbonlahor – Aston Villa
Agbonlahor on his day is perhaps the most exciting player that Aston Villa currently have in their ranks. His pace and direct style could rattle the usually organized back 4 of Crystal Palace and could well be relied on by Lambert to get the desired result. He’s attempted 60 dribbles, which is testament to his style of play and has dribbled past a player 25 times. He’s created a fair number of chances 25 (incl assists) in the 25 games he’s been involved in so far, which is roughly a chance per game. If Gabriel Agbonlahor could really get himself into the mood, I can see him spoil the Londoners’ party.
Home form has been a large part of Crystal Palace’s revival, with the fans making Selhurst Park a hostile environment for any team while their opponents have looked far from convincing the last three games. Taking Crystal Palace’s good home form into account, I go for a 2-0 win to the home side.