In Watford's biggest game of the season, will the Palace continue to crumble at Wembley?

Two sides with terrible recent league form meet at Wembley this weekend, when Watford take on Crystal Palace in an FA Cup semi-final.

In Watford's biggest game of the season, will the Palace continue to crumble at Wembley?
Alan Pardew is searching for an FA Cup final berth to save his season (photo: Getty Images)

With Quique Sanchez Flores perceived to be under pressure after another Premier League defeat to West Ham United this week, Watford fans will be looking forward to the distraction of the FA Cup against a Crystal Palace team who are one of just a handful to be having a worse 2016 than the Hornets.

The slippery slope...

Think back to Christmas and you may remember the South London side were flying high in the top six of the table. Matching the likes of Leicester City and West Ham United, manager Alan Pardew was explaining how 'our 2015 form would be good enough to earn a Champions League spot'. He was correct, but a football season is a marathon, not a sprint.

Since the turn of the year it has been a slippery slope for Crystal Palace. They have played 16 league games, lost ten and won on just one occasion. After an opening few months where there was talk of them qualifying for Europe, there was in fact whisperings of Palace perhaps even getting relegated. Fortunately their only win of 2016 thus far came against fellow strugglers Norwich City.

Goalkeeping misfortunes, despite defensive stability 

So where has it all gone wrong for Crystal Palace? Well their defence is not too much of an issue. With the likes of Scott Dann and Damian Delaney leading the line, 16th place Palace still have a better defensive record than Everton and match Chelsea in the goals conceded column. 

Yet goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who was receiving a number of plaudits for a string of outstanding performances at the start of the season, has made massive errors at important moments in recent months. The Wales international made two costly errors against Manchester City and Aston Villa during the month of January as the downward spiral began. 

Wingers worked out

The tactic for Crystal Palace all season has been to use their pace down the flanks to attack the opposition and provide crosses for their powerful strikers. The ploy was working wonders at the beginning of the season, but Palace have since been found out and squeezed for space on the width of the pitch.

Some of Palace's bigger names have struggled to cope with no Plan B evident. Star player Yannick Bolasie has just two assists in the league all season and not scored since November, whilst Jason Puncheon, who has scored at least five goals in the last three Premier League campaigns, netted his only goal against Norwich City. Wilf Zaha is another wide player who has struggled, with just two league goals all season and on the same baron run as Bolasie.

Lack of service for the strikers

With key wide players unable to make an impact, the service for the forward line has been starved. Though Palace have a talented set of strikers on paper, Dwight Gayle, Emmanuel Adebayor, Frazier Campbell and Marouane Chamakh have just two league goals between them this season.

One man who did find a bit of form was Connor Wickham, who grabbed four goals in two games at the start of March. Yet during the last game in that run, the big striker picked up an injury leaving him sidelined for a month and effecting the Palace goalscoring flow.

Wickham is in fact the top league goalscorer for Crystal Palace this season, joined by defender Scott Dann on just five each. The statistic proves oncemore the struggles Palace have found in front of goal, but also identifies one of their strengths. Alan Pardew's side are deadly from set pieces and Watford will have to be wary of such a threat.

No ball retention in midfield 

Another issue for Crystal Palace has been their ability to keep the ball. Only five players have a passing percentage above 80% and their number one in this department, James McCarthy, has 46 other Premier League players ahead of him in the rankings. Palace barely had possession of the ball in the centre of midfield against Manchester United during the week.

All of the statistics lean towards an intriguing encounter against Watford at Wembley. The Hornets have found defending the flanks a problem in recent weeks, particularly against Arsenal, and will have to rectify this area to thaw Palace's strengths. Watford have also struggled to score goals recently and may find life tough against a Crystal Palace team whose defence has not been as bad as their lowly league position suggests.