Croydon Advertiser journalist Mark Ritson gives us the lowdown on Southampton's next opponents, Crystal Palace.
What has the form been like recently?
It’s been a remarkable turnaround. They’re four games unbeaten now, and have conceded just one goal in that run, which was obviously away at Chelsea. It’s probably coincided with Mamadou Sakho starting those last four. He’s been immense and has been a real rock at the back for Palace.
Going forward, Wilfried Zaha is in the form of his life. Andros Townsend had a slow start, but is stepping up now and, of course, there's former Saint Jason Puncheon. He’s got the captain’s armband and, being a local boy, it means a lot to him. The players respect him, he gees the players up before the game, and of course then there’s Christian Benteke, who’s fantastic in the air and holds the ball up. The confidence is oozing and they are using everyone to their full strengths.
Just how much of an effect has Sam Allardyce had?
When he came in it was all quite rushed. He didn’t have much time to plan transfers, he had to assess his squad. He probably didn’t know much about Crystal Palace and has had to learn a lot inside a few weeks. When he came in it wasn’t a fairytale start, but the signings they brought in have now gelled and we’re seeing the results of it. He’s brought in his style of play, which is a lot different under Alan Pardew, where it was all attack, attack, attack and wasn’t really too much about defending. But the Palace way we’ve been used to in the Premier League has been to defend and with the players they’ve got, like Wilfried Zaha, to hit teams on the break.
What is the style of play like at the moment?
Everyone works really hard for each other, everyone is defending as a unit, whereas before they weren’t, and there’s almost a never-say-die attitude. They’re just working as a team. They’re hard to beat. It’s a bit similar to what we saw when Tony Pulis was the manager as well – disciplined and hard to beat, and they’ve got the quality to hit teams on the counter attack with devastating effect.
Who will be Palace’s key men in this game?
WIlfried Zaha is on fire, and is showing why Manchester United bought him a few years ago. He’s adding goals to his game – his goals and assists combined is the highest in the Premier League, ahead of Dele Alli and Coutinho. He’s quick, he’s direct, he produces good deliveries, and he’s getting goals.
Christian Benteke will be fired up as well. He hadn’t scored for two months for Palace until Saturday, but he’ll be a big threat.
Palace have got some problems at the back. Scott Dann has suffered knee ligament damage, but Sakho has come in and been absolutely immense. I don’t know how they’re going to line up. If he plays Damien Delaney and Sakho together, they’re both left-sided centre-backs, so I’m not sure if he’ll go 3-5-2 or 4-4-2.
I should also mention Luka Milivojević, the big holding midfielder. He goes very quietly about his job, but he’s so, so effective.