Football gained one of its greatest-ever titles in midweek when Leon Britton was appointed ‘interim player-head coach’ at Swansea City.
The Swans hero is standing in as boss following the sacking of Paul Clement who left with the South Wales club bottom of the Premier League and four points from safety. Britton will still undertake playing duties and has claimed he has no interest in becoming the club’s permanent manager.
Britton had been player-coach under Clement but has been promoted to his new role while the Swansea board search for a new manager, and he faces Crystal Palace in his first game on Saturday.
The Eagles have had similar managerial problems but now seemed settled under the guidance of Roy Hodgson who replaced Frank de Boer – a contender for the Swansea job – in September. The former England manager has lifted the South Londoners from the bottom of the table to 14th thanks to a club-record seven unbeaten top-flight matches - the latest a stunning 3-0 win at Leicester City.
Story this season
Swansea have won just one of their previous eleven games, culminated by the midweek 3-1 defeat at Everton which cost Clement his job. They remain on just 12 points from 18 games and have drastically underperformed this season.
Clement had guided Swansea to safety last season having been appointed in January with the club in a similar predicament to the one now. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente were pivotal under Clement but they were both sold in the summer and neither were truly replaced.
Wilfried Bony returned to his former club following a failed move to Manchester City but has scored just two goals, which could partly be because the side lacks a creative midfielder in Sigurdsson’s mould. On-loan Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham has netted five times, including one against Palace in August, and will most likely start in place of Bony who suffered a hamstring injury against the Toffees.
Meanwhile, Palace have markedly improved recently following a poor start to the season and pose a serious threat to Swansea. Hodgson has galvanised a side that was seriously low on confidence and tumbling towards a seemingly inevitable relegation.
The Eagles began the season with de Boer in charge but the Dutchman lost his opening four league games and was subsequently sacked. Hodgson replaced him and oversaw defeats in the next three league games, but a surprise victory against Chelsea in their eighth game included their first points and goals of the campaign.
Since then, Palace have taken 14 points from 10 games and could climb to 12th with a victory in Wales – a remarkable feat given their poor start.
Head to head
The last three meetings between the two sides have all been Swansea victories, including the classic 5-4 game 13 months ago. The Swans also won at Selhurst Park earlier in the season thanks to goals from Abraham and Jordan Ayew. De Boer was sacked one game later.
The clubs first met in December 1920, a 0-0 draw in the then third division south, and the fixture has been played another 27 times since in all competitions. Swansea have won 13 to Palace’s five, with ten draws.
Swansea are without Bony following his injury suffered in the early minutes of the defeat to Everton, so Abraham will most likely lead the line. Former Palace midfielder Wayne Routledge is back following a muscular injury, as is fellow midfielder Ki Sung-yueng. Kyle Bartley is a long-term absentee.
Christian Benteke picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in last weekend’s win against Leicester so will miss out. Bakary Sako, who came on to score the third in that victory, is the likeliest candidate to replace the Belgian with Connor Wickham out injured.
Hodgson claimed Jason Puncheon is available following his arrest outside a nightclub last weekend but did not state if the club captain would definitely be involved. Luka Milivojevic is back following his suspension but Joel Ward and Damien Delaney both miss out through injury.