These two sides are meeting for the second time this campaign and they will both see this fixture as a great opportunity to gain three precious points in the fight against relegation. Villa have been better recently, picking up points and climbing the table, which is mainly due to the impressive performances of Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor. However a lack of goals is preventing them from putting some distance between them and the bottom three. Meanwhile, Crystal Palace have once again gambled by sacking their manager in the first half of the season, and they remain on the hunt for a new manager, with lots of Premier League experience essential.
Villa were seen as genuine relegation candidates and after a lengthy goal drought, many considered them as one of the favourites for the drop. Although wins against Palace and Leicester and draws against Southampton and Manchester United have seen them reach the same points total as Everton, which is five clear of Palace in 18th. They will be relatively happy with that, but their lack of goals is a problem. Christian Benteke isn’t the goalscorer he was in his first season. He does still possess a level of quality above the rest of the squad and his performances will be crucial over the coming months. They have endured a shaky period over the last four games. However, Palace offer an opportunity to pick up three points, especially as Villa have already triumphed over the London side this season.
Premier League clubs have been a lot more patient with their managers this season, with Neil Warnock being the first to be fired and that has come as late as the end of December. Palace may attribute their position in the league to already seeing two managers leave between pre season and New Year, but they are still in a great position to pull away from the drop zone. Hull, West Brom and QPR are all within touching distance and a win on New Year’s Day will see them jump out of the relegation zone. It appears that Alan Pardew will be named the new Crystal Palace manager after a compensation deal was agreed with Newcastle.
In the meeting at Selhurst Park under a month ago, Aston Villa picked up a vital three points, due to a brilliant goal from Christian Benteke. It was results like this one against sides around them that ultimately cost Warnock his job. In this fixture last season, it was Palace who came away with a 1-0 away win with Dwight Gayle scoring a late winner. This result saw Palace go on a run and maintain their Premier League status after a poor start, maybe something similar will happen this year.
Aston Villa have only lost twice in their last nine fixtures, showing that they are becoming harder to beat, although a lack of goals is stopping them from pulling away from the bottom three,
Crystal Palace have only won once since September, highlighting why Warnock was relieved of his duties. They need to get back to winning ways soon, or they will be cut adrift at the bottom.
The Belgian was the difference the last time the sides met and he could have a telling impact once again on New Year’s Day. His return has improved Villa and keeping hold of him in January will be crucial, especially if they want to comfortably avoid relegation, as Benteke has the ability to score the goals to fire them to safety. His consistency has dropped since his first season in England, but his strength and power make him a difficult striker to defend again. His physical attributes could see him earn a move to a bigger club in the coming year as he could easily make an impact on a bigger stage. There aren’t many strikers better than he is in the air in world football. He has only scored twice this season in ten matches, but Villa lack creativity and Beneteke has been adjusting back to Premier League football after his serious injury. He will be a threat on Thursday as he is very dangerous in the air, with the ability to make any centre half’s afternoon a nightmare, as he did in the reverse fixture.
Yannick Bolasie has been a revelation this season as he has continued to improve as a player, and now his pace and direct playing style causes all sorts of problems for opposition sides. It will be interesting to see how he is used under Pardew. At Newcastle, Pardew preferred to use hard working defensive wingers in Jonas Gutierrez, Yoan Gouffran, Joey Barton and Moussa Sissoko, than flair players in Remy Cabella, Hatem Ben Arfa, Wayne Routledge and Sylvain Marveaux. Bolasie isn’t the best at tracking back, and that is something he will need to work on to fit into a Pardew side. He will also want to work on his decision making in the final third as he often gets into dangerous areas, but he has only scored once and has three assists. He has potential to contribute a lot more and at the age of 25, he will need to push on sooner rather than later.
Tom Cleverley, Ciaran Clark and Joe Cole are all doubts for this fixture to kick off the new year. Philippe Senderos, Nathan Baker and Ashley Westwood are all expected to miss out, while Libor Kozak is still some time away from returning. Fabian Delph will be missing through suspension.
Marouane Chamakh is going to be missing with a hamstring problem, while the bigger blow will be the absence of Mile Jedinak who has left to join up with Australia for the Asia Cup. He has been key for Palace and he will leave a huge hole in their side. This is likely to be Bolasie’s last game before he leaves for the African Cup of Nations.
Crystal Palace may play with extra energy now they have a new manager to impress. Alan Pardew is unlikely to be in the dugout for this match, but he will probably be at Villa Park to observe his new side in action. The absence of Jedinak will be a huge blow, but Villa haven’t been great at home for a number of seasons now and they are always at risk of losing on their own patch. I don’t expect a lot of goals in this match as neither have been clinical in front of goal this season. This match will be decided by an individual piece of brilliance like it was at Selhurst Park, when Benteke scored a wonderful header. I expect Villa to complete the double over Palace.