In typical circumstances, this would officially be Crystal Palace's last game of the season. But this isn't a typical season. Here's Jack Pierce's preview.
There are few teams who aren’t still vying to win a league, avoid relegation or win a trophy that are desperate for the season not to end. Southampton are that team.
Just two defeats since the start of March has seen Ronald Koeman’s side finding themselves in 7th place with just one game to go. Impressive victories against Manchester City and Tottenham in the last two weekends has seen The Saints rightly praised with the win at White Hart Lane last Sunday particularly impressive as they had to come from a goal down against a side desperate to, despite not winning the league, finish above their local rivals.
When we met Southampton at Selhurst just before Christmas in what proved our last home win for nearly four months, they looked a side treading water. While they did force two very good saves from Wayne Hennessey, The Saints didn’t look the coherent, tactically astute side they had in the campaign before. They lacked the zip and bite that Koeman had impressively instilled in his side during his first season in charge. We created chance after chance, particularly in the first half and Southampton were lucky to be just one behind at half time. Paulo Gazzaniga, in his only Premier League outing this season, made some top saves including one from Yannick when a cross whipped in caught a huge gust of wind and nearly ended up beating the young Argentine.
To think, we went sixth that night…
Fast forward five months and the two teams couldn’t have had more different second halves of their seasons. Palace have earned just a further 16 points from 21 games while Southampton have picked up 39 points which has taken them on to 60 for the season.
While we tried our hardest to get involved in the relegation scrap, but thankfully failed in that aim, Southampton have embarked on a very impressive second half of the season. League wins at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane as well as notable home wins against Liverpool and City don’t happen by accident. Koeman has clearly got his side back to the levels of last through hard work and determination and a season that, at Christmas, looked as though it might amble into one of nothingness now looks as though it will rank as one of their best since the conception of the Premier League and football itself in 1992.
One reason for the better form of the second half of the season is that their strikers found their shooting boots. Shane Long, Graziano Pelle and Saido Mane have each scored ten league goals this season making Southampton the only Premier League side, thus far, to have three players who have reached double figures in terms of league goals. Between the three of them, they have given many a defender a nightmare this season, especially since after Christmas. There’s never been that much love for the City centre half pairing of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Ottamdeni but they got run ragged at St Mary’s a few weeks ago by the Southampton striking partnership of Long and Mane. Mane is technically superb and if he fancies it on Sunday, just like last season, it could be he who decides the outcome of this one.
It’s going to be another important summer for Southampton. They’ve become well versed in losing key players during the off seasons of the last two seasons but with what looks a fairly stable ship, the most likely source of interest is Koeman himself. A man who has impressed so much since arriving in England is allegedly the source of interest to a number of clubs, including the freshly manager-less Everton.
Losing Koeman would be a huge blow to a club so clearly heading in the right direction but there were great fears the progress the club had made under Mauricio Pochettino would unravel once he left. It didn’t.
Enjoy Southampton to those going.
Enjoy the steam train if you’re going on that.
Enjoy your Sunday if you’re not doing either. Rest up for the following Saturday; apparently we’re playing again.
It’s been a bit of a slog at times during this season but we’ve made it and we’ll be a Premier League side again next season. For a fourth campaign in a row!
Until a few days before the first day of next season, goodnight!