If you were to classify Crystal Palace’s current season as a kind of disaster, it’s certainly better than last year’s dumpster fire that saw them sack Frank De Boer after seven games. Sitting in 14th place with 8 points from 11 matches, it’s a slightly more genteel form of disaster — it’s more like when you spill hot oil on the stove. Bad, yes. Lots of burning, and likely to get worse, at least in the short term. But there’s a high probability that you can snuff it out if you act fast enough.
Palace aren’t as bad as their early season results have suggested, but they’re by no means good. If you look at their xG and xA, they are solidly mid-table — not good enough to push for a European place, but certainly not poor enough that one would anticipate them fighting to stay in the top flight this season. Their points have come against Fulham, Huddersfield, Newcastle, and (hilariously) Arsenal. They have managed only two points at Selhurst Park this season. With matches against Spurs and Manchester United upcoming, the next couple of weeks could resemble Roy Hodgson frantically searching the kitchen for the metaphorical fire extinguisher (or at worst a pot lid).
The main problem with Palace this season is simply that they’re not scoring goals. Defensively they’re not bad — solidly mid-table and at times stingy. But that offense! Thus far they’ve managed to tally 8 goals in 11 matches, better only than Southampton, Newcastle, and Huddersfield. It shouldn’t be that poor — they’re underperforming their xG by about 4 — and that’s the main reason to think that there’s probably a light, however dim, at the end of this tunnel.
Tactically, Palace don’t really have a real honest-to-goodness striker. Much of their offensive output has come through Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend, though lately Roy Hodgson has moved Andre Ayew into the front line as a central facilitator and playmaker. But that lack of goals is certainly a sticky problem. Two of Palace’s eight have been penalties from Luka Milivojevic. As good as he is (and he’s good!) Zaha hasn’t scored since the middle of September. Townsend is... well, we all remember too keenly what exactly Andros brings to the table.
All that’s to say that while Spurs shouldn’t take this match for granted, there are reasons to feel pretty confident that even a slightly rotated Tottenham side should be able to get a result against a Palace team that on present form is going up in smoke. However, Palace have the tools to be able to compete with Spurs or with any team in the league. If they put together a coherent offense, there’s a chance they could surprise.
How will Spurs line up at Crystal Palace?
First, let’s take stock of what we know. Mousa Dembele is out until early 2019 with an ankle injury. Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose are still on the long-term injury list. Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier are both back in full training but may or not be ready to play any meaningful minutes against Palace.
Then, Mauricio Pochettino came out in his weekly press conference and suggested that he might rest Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli out of exhaustion concerns.
“We will see on Saturday, it was a tough game against PSV in the Champions League. Then they are going to move to the national team I think. It will be tough to play two games. That is why we need to care and send them really fresh. That is why we are thinking [about] if they are going to play or not against Palace.”
Dele and Dier are both called up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad for a friendly vs. USA and a home Nations League match against Croatia, and with Dier only recently back and Dele still partially held together with Scotch tape, it seems fine to rest them to me, unless they are needed as impact substitutes.
For that reason, I predict Moussa Sissoko returns to the starting lineup alongside Harry Winks in a 4-2-3-1. Son Heung-Min, Erik Lamela, and Lucas Moura will form the front line behind Kane. The back line picks itself, more or less.
It’s a tricky tie and a London derby, but Spurs should have enough in the tank to see off Palace on Saturday. That’s my starting lineup. What’s yours?