Low-on-confidence Palace meet high-flying Southampton on Saturday -- and we all know what we're expecting. Here's Jack Pierce with his eye on the oppoistion.
Southampton are Saturday's opponents and they come to Selhurst on the back of an impressive 1-0 win against Everton in what was the first return of Ronald Koeman to St Mary's since his summer departure. Many thought they'd suffer as a result of his departure but, and seems the Southampton way, they employed another more than capable coach from the continent, this time Claude Puel, and the ship appears a steady one. Mid table and still in with a very good shout of progressing in Europe, their start of this season has been absolutely fine.
In comparison to ours, it's been magnificent!
It was December of last year when Koeman brought his Saints side to Selhurst and the Palace side offered one of the most complete performances they have since promotion in 2013. Dominant on the ball and excellent without it, that 90 minutes represented everything that was good with that Palace side then. A 1-0 win courtesy of Yohan Cabaye saw us consolidate our top six place and all the talk in the Red and Blue afterwards was positive, and then some.
Fast forward 12 months and it really couldn't be much different. The calls for the manager to go have almost eaten themselves to the point that some fans don't believe he'll ever go but poor returns from Saturday's game and then the trip to The KC the following week will surely be enough for Steve Parish to press the button on Super Al's ejector seat. Lose badly on Saturday in terms of both result and performance and Pardew's exit may be swifter.
It's not easy to identify the central cause of what's gone wrong but you don't endure the sort of run that the manager has overseen since the turn of the year unless there are entrenched issues. The cup run was great and some wonderful memories were created but it barely covered the cracks while it was happening. Without that distraction, the team's shortcomings are ever clearer.
The situation has become such that I'm not entirely sure what will constitute a good result for Palace on Saturday. I never don't want Palace to win but if a win was to ensure a manager, that after the defeat at Swansea has lost the faith of a huge chunk of fans, more time, I'm not sure whether that would serve the club well in the long term. That said, I can't guarantee I wouldn't get lost in the euphoria of a Palace win at Selhurst to the point that I convince myself everything is ok because it's a 'funny old game'.
If we are to get that surprising win, we'll have to overcome a Southampton side that is well organised and a threat on the break. Basically, us 12 months ago. A strong core to the side is fundamental to their side with the likes of Forster, Van Dijk, Romeu and Austin pivotal to the approach that new coach, Puel, asks his side to abide by.
Inconsistency is their problem this season with wins like the one against Everton last weekend only cancelling out the surprise loss at Hull earlier in November. There's the potential for this Saints team to be a top eight side and maintain the sort of finishes they enjoyed under Koeman. January will be important in regards to keeping those so important to them and perhaps adding to the squad, especially if European football is still an issue once it returns in February.
One man certain to be at the top of clubs' shopping is the centre backs Van Dijk. Now in his second season in the Premier League, the Dutchman looks the real deal and is likely to seek pastures new in the next few transfer windows. Excellent defensively, he is also very comfortable with the ball at his feet and moving into a more advanced position while in possession. There are few better centre halves in the top flight and on current form he is certainly right up there in terms of the best so if and when the bids do start to come in, Southampton can ask for a big sum to even start the bidding.
At the other end of the pitch, Charlie Austin has reminded sceptics that he can certainly do a job in the top flight. Excellent for QPR a few seasons back, Austin has filled the boots of Graziano Pelle, who went to fill his pockets in China, and is a constant goal threat. Given our defensive flimsiness of recent weeks, he'll be asking the likes Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond to get the ball into him as soon as possible. Depending on whether our lot have sorted themselves out following last weekend's horror show, Austin may well add to his already impressive goal tally this season come Saturday afternoon.
There are good and bad times to play certain sides and right now it looks as though Southampton have hit the jackpot but for them it’s just another day in the season.
For us, something totally different…