Premier League strugglers Crystal Palace and Sunderland will be desperate for all three points when they take to the field at Selhurst Park this weekend (3pm Saturday).
Sam Allardyce secured his first Premier League win as Palace manager last time out, as goals from captain Scott Dann – the division’s highest-scoring defender since the start of last season – and Christian Benteke helped the visitors to a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Tuesday night.
It was a much-needed triumph for the Eagles, who nevertheless remain in the bottom three due to Swansea City’s 2-1 defeat of Southampton on the same evening. The Eagles’ lowly position means they cannot afford to slip up against the Black Cats despite their midweek success, and Allardyce will have to ensure his charges are focused on the task in hand before they take to the pitch. Palace possess a relatively strong squad compared to the teams around them at the wrong end of the table, and it is up to the former England boss to bring out the best in them between now and the conclusion of the campaign in May.
Sunderland secured an important point when they last took to the field, holding Tottenham Hotspur to a goalless stalemate at the Stadium of Light. Despite the clear positives of drawing with one of the division’s best sides, the Black Cats slipped further adrift of safety following Swansea’s aforementioned win against Southampton, with David Moyes’ men now five points shy of 17th spot after a failure to emerge victorious from any of their last six encounters in the top flight.
The former Everton and Manchester United head coach has been criticised for a rather defeatist attitude since he took charge of the northeast outfit. Moyes recently claimed that Sunderland’s January signings are unlikely to make a big difference to the fortunes of his team and the club’s supporters will want to see a positive performance here.
Palace will again be without Steve Mandanda (knee), Jonathan Benteke (knee), Pape Souare (broken leg) and Connor Wickham (knee), but Jeff Schlupp is back in contention after sustaining a mild hamstring injury in the FA Cup loss to Manchester City last weekend. Allardyce employed an asymmetrical 3-4-3 formation at the Vitality Stadium in midweek, with Wilfried Zaha high and wide on the right flank and James McArthur tucking in on the left, thus allowing Patrick van Aanholt to get forward on the overlap. He will probably stick with the same shape this weekend.
Sunderland will be forced to make do without the services of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (knee), defender Paddy McNair (knee), striker Victor Anichebe (knee) and midfield trio Duncan Watmore (knee), Lee Cattermole (hip) and Jan Kircchoff (knee). Moyes lined his players up in a 3-5-2 configuration for the recent visit of Tottenham and, like his opposite number, will probably not make a change on Saturday, with the focus likely to be on keeping things tight at the back and nicking a goal on the break or from a set-piece.
So this preview very much involves a battle to avoid the drop, with Sunderland 1/6 and Crystal Palace 2/1 in the Premier League relegation betting odds. Although Palace have the worst home record in the division this season, they should still have enough quality to get the better of Sunderland, one of the few sides below them in the standings.
Allardyce has been attempting to increase his team’s defensive resolve and solidity since he replaced Alan Pardew in the Selhurst Park dugout in December, which means this could be a rather low-scoring affair in south London. A Palace victory certainly looks the way to go here, though, while Zaha would be a sensible selection to get his name on the scoresheet any time. Here are this preview’s betting tips: