Eye on the Opposition - Crystal Palace vs Stoke City (25/11/2017)

Written by Jack Pierce

 Crystal Palace await the visit of Stoke City. Here's Jack Pierce with his look at Saturday's opponents. 

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It's not even December and this feels like a pretty big one.

After two more than decent home performances in which Palace deserved at least one win, and came away without one, we go into this fixture against Stoke needing a win to drag our way back towards the group of teams ahead of us.

Defeat isn't really an option.

As for Stoke, their season has spluttered along so far with the odd decent showing complemented by disappointing performances. 15th and just four points from the drop zone, Mark Hughes will know that the club’s powers that be expect more than that. Regular top half finishes have raised the Stoke faithful's expectation and hovering in and around the bottom three won't cut it. If they were to maintain their current league position then it's likely we'd see a parting of the ways between Hughes and his employer next summer or perhaps even before.

Last time out, they earned a point at The Amex in a rather lively Monday night encounter. Both Brighton and Stoke were culpable of conceding very poor goals which hopefully bodes well for Palace considering who our next two opponents are. 

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Kurt Zouma grabbed Stoke's two goals on Monday evening but the absence of a natural goal scorer is there for all to see. Choupo-Moting, while able to play up front, is happier playing from deeper, Peter Crouch is 73 years old and Saido Berahino hasn't scored since before man first landed on the moon. You can curse me when all three bag a goal on Saturday but you'd imagine some sort of business will be made come January and the reopening of the window.

Stoke are the sort of side that we really must be aiming for at this stage of the season. With the three promoted sides looking fairly settled, sitting between 9th and 11th in the table, it looks as though at least two, if not three ‘established’ Premier League sides are going to be starting the 2018/19 season in The Championship. This is Stoke’s tenth consecutive season in the Premier League and while not as perilous as our own, their position is far from safe. Relegation would threaten to undo the work done to establish the club as a top flight regular, on and off the pitch, and they will be keen to avoid any threat of that occurring so games like this Saturday’s are as much of a target for points for Stoke as it is for Palace. Liverpool and Spurs are two of their next three opponents so opportunities like a trip to the bottom placed side shouldn’t be one they ignore lightly.

Like last Saturday, the fixture provides Palace the chance to crawl themselves back into the pack as well as draw another into the relegation dogfight. A Palace win and Stoke are just five points ahead of us going into the set of midweek fixtures; a defeat and The Potters begin to look a fair distance ahead.

I don’t want to call it a must win but I’m afraid it sort of is.

Key players

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Ryan Shawcross

Nobody really likes Ryan Shawcross, do they? Other than Stoke City fans I mean.

He's not rated by many outside of The Potteries despite nearly ten years of consistency at the highest level. Seen as a bit of throwback, the Stoke captain is firmly settled at the club he helped into the Premier League in 2008 and, having signed a lucrative new deal earlier this year, he may well see out his career there.

One of his side's key players, Shawcross' battle with Christian Benteke is likely to be a huge influence upon Saturday's result.

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Darren Fletcher

Having racked up his 326th Premier League appearance on Monday at The Amex, Fletcher is now the proud owner of most Premier League appearances for a Scottish player edging Gary McAlister into second place.

A fine servant of Manchester United, the midfielder went on to impress at the heart of Tony Pulis' West Brom before joining Stoke at the end of his contract at The Hawthorns.

Unlikely to be appreciated until his playing days are over, Fletcher has settled into life at his new club without an iota of trouble - the mark of a fine professional.

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Peter Crouch

While his teammate became the frequent Scot in the Premier League, Crouch earned himself his own record - most appearances from the substitute bench.

The striker's top flight career has lasted nearly two decades but despite that, the threat he poses to opposition defences doesn’t appear to be lessening. His mere presence is opposition boxes causes panic  and whether he starts or arrives from the bench, the Palace defence will have to marshal Crouch well.