Crystal Palace face Stoke this weekend with Alan Pardew, Yohan Cabaye and co. hoping to keep the Eagles’ fantastic form this season going.
Stoke currently sit in mid-table. Which is where they should be given how their style of play and perception is somewhere stuck in the middle too.
The general consensus, until recently, was that a trip to Stoke was seen as tough place to go and get a result. As if it was a half-built stadium in Turkey or Kazakhstan filled with “ultras” throwing flares and coins onto corner-takers.
The other view is that Mark Hughes has changed Stoke from thuggish brutes into football purists. That he has brought a continental feel to the Britannia and that the bigger sides should watch out as Stoke were going to play them off the park. Of course we have seen that to full effect with Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic operating as a very effective front three, particularly in the recent dismantling of Manchester City.
However, there still seems to be a feeling that Stoke’s recent exploits have simply been a lateral move rather then a huge leap forward. They have four more points than at this stage last year but have scored five less goals. In fact they are currently averaging under a goal a game. Hardly the “Barcelona-lite” that many were proclaiming we would see this year.
The notion of the Britannia being a barren fortress is also starting to look unfounded. In last season’s 19 homes games, Stoke conceded 22 goals. After seven home games this year they have conceded seven goals and taken ten points. Hardly inspiring.
Pardew, this season, has been quite the revelation. Even being mentioned as a possible replacement for Roy Hodgson after the Euros. He has taken Crystal Palace to level on points with London rivals Tottenham, and if results go their way this weekend the Eagles could be sitting in 4th place when Mr Pardew is carving his turkey.
A lot of Palace’s recent successes, however, are owed to one man – Yohan Cabaye.
The Frenchman has been excellent this year. Rejoining his former manager after a turgid time with PSG, where he apparently never felt comfortable.
“I know that when I arrived, perhaps there were certain players that didn’t want me to come. As soon as there was a ball lost, an interception missed or not the right pass, people would shout, would look at you strangely,” Cabaye told ESPN.
Perhaps the pressure of stepping up from Newcastle’s mid-table obscurity to the pressure of Ligue 1 winners and Champions League hopefuls was too much for the 29-year-old, but PSG’s loss is Palace’s and the Premier League’s gain.
His importance to Palace is seen at both ends of the pitch. According to WhoScored.com, going forward he has contributed five goals and one assist. He also averages 1.5 key passes per game. Defensively, though, is where he really stands out; no one averages more tackles or interceptions then the diminutive midfielder. Steel going back, silk going forward. So while wingers Yannick Bolasie and Bakary Sako average more shots per game and Jason Puncheon has claimed more assists it is Cabaye who watches, who waits, who controls the game.
Pardew’s men come into this one in confident mood after only tasting defeat once in their last six games. Of Palace’s seven away games, five of them have been 0-0 at half time. Another interesting figure to take note of is that 33% of Palace’s goals have come in the last 15 minutes; showing their reliance on counter-attacking football and exploiting tired bodies.
Palace have also scored six goals from set-pieces this season and with Scott Dann already on the scoresheet three times, don’t be surprised if he comes up with the goods again.
Joe’s tip-top tips:
Half-time/full-time – draw/Palace @ 11/2
Scott Dann last goalscorer @ 25/1
Joe Gleeson, Pundit Arena