Eye on the Opposition - Southampton vs Crystal Palace (02.01.2018)

Written by Jack Pierce

Palace take on a Southampton side that, with a few defeats, could be dragged into the relegation scrap. Here's what to expect from them. 

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We've had Christmas. We've had New Years. But the Christmas football period is still here.

Our last match of the set of fixtures is a trip to Southampton and with them just a point above us in the table, this is a vital fixture for both The Eagles and The Saints.

Southampton's visit to SE25 in September was Roy Hogdson's first game in charge of Palace and the shrinking of the gap between these two sides is testament to the magnificent job he has done since taking over. If after that game, you'd been told that within three and a half months that Palace would've been out of the bottom three and were the side to stop

Manchester City's superb winning streak, you'd not have believed it.

The Saints haven't had the best season under Mauricio Pellegrino, he himself only appointed last summer. The Argentine hoped to follow in the footsteps of Messrs Pochettino, Koeman and Puel in implementing his ideals as seamlessly as possible. However that's not been the case but one reason for that maybe the off his hands. Virgil van Dijk's move to Liverpool has been completed and the questions over the defender's future are now not the business of his former manager. With £75 million in the bank and a potentially difficult influence removed from the dressing room, Pellegrino will be hoping the Dutchman's sale will ease any tensions in the dressing room, allow him to continue his job and improve things on the pitch.

There's also the small matter of reinvesting the sizeable amount of cash received for van Dijk's services. It will be interesting to see whether Southampton, a club whose transfers are so well managed, spend now or wait for next summer when value will certainly be better.

They've not won in eight league games and confidence isn't particularly evident around the place but The Saints do have some wonderful players capable of influencing a game's result in an instant. Sofiane Boufal has already scored one of the individual goals of the season this campaign and is able to tie defenders in knots, Dusan Tadic possesses the sort of quality that terrifies defences from both open play and set pieces and Mario Lemina provided one of the best individual displays from a midfielder seen at Selhurst this season.

We've not won at St Mary's in the Premier League before and to do so on Tuesday night would be a wonderful start to 2018. However, the efforts of Sunday's superb stalemate against City will have taken it out of the Palace players hugely and that's without considering the injuries that occurred to Scott Dann and Jason Puncheon.

Southampton have had the extra day's rest and at this time of the season, that is absolutely vital. If they are going to end this awful run of theirs, then they're unlikely to have a better chance than entertaining our weary lot.

Key players

Fraser Forster

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A one time rival for Joe Hart's number one England shirt, Forster has dropped down the list this season to the point that it's unlikely he'll travel to Russia as even a back up. His form this season has been worrying for Saints' fans and he'll certainly need to regain some of that form if his side are to steer themselves safe this season.

A man mountain, Forster does pull off some incredible saves and when on form is a top rate goalkeeper. That said there have been concerns about his positioning and strength of wrist given some of the goals he's conceded up to this point of the season.

Steven Davis

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The club captain is one of those players that supporters of other clubs look at and admire. There's no fuss with the midfielder and he regularly displays how important he is to his side with classy performances. He often goes under the radar but there has been a greater appreciation for his talent in recent seasons.

The Northern Irish skipper nearly led his country to a World Cup but after that failure, Davis will very much be hoping to guide his club side away from what would be a shock relegation.

Shane Long

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After Southampton's thrashing at Wembley on Boxing Day, the stat that Harry Kane has scored 50 goals since Shane Long scored his last emerged. There's not a lot you can say to defend that (although one should probably acknowledge just how good Kane has been this season) but Long does still serve his team a purpose.

In September, his role in that 1-0 win at Selhurst was of paramount importance. His willingness to drag centre halves out of position all game created space for others and while his touch in front of goal has gone missing, he is very capable of bringing others into play with his intelligent link up play.