Palace hoping to rekindle poor form, but must overcome tough Sunderland test
Palace have suffered a shocking drop in form since the turn of the year; Alan Pardew’s side are the only team in the Football League without a win in 2016, and have been defeated by the likes of Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Watford and, most recently, Tony Pulis' Baggies' side - and now find themselves 14th in the Premier League, despite being as high as fifth in December.
Both clubs are now considered to be in a relegation fight and will see the game as a chance to edge further away from the drop zone. However, Palace have a slight advantage over Sunderland in the fight for survival having accumulated 32 points over the course of the season - needing just eight more to reach the 40-point mark - as opposed to Sunderland’s 23 points. The Black Cats are currently in the relegation zone, but could climb as high as 16th if they beat the Eagles, and Swansea, Norwich and Newcastle all lose. Palace could potentially climb to 12th with a victory.
Sunderland recorded a surprising 1-0 win at Selhurst Park in November thanks to Jermain Defoe’s late goal. However, Palace’s last visit to the Stadium of Light resulted in an emphatic 4-1 win; Yannick Bolasie’s hat-trick followed a Glenn Murray opener sealed the win, while current Palace forward, Connor Wickham, scored a late consolation for then-manager Dick Advocaat’s side. Since Palace were promoted to the Premier League in May 2013, the Eagles have won twice, lost twice and drawn once.
Sunderland rejuvenated under Allardyce
Sunderland appeared to be heading towards the Championship at the start of the season following an awful start under the management of Advocaat. However, rejuvenated under the experienced guidance of newly appointed manager Sam Allardyce, the Black Cats now look more organised in their approach to games and will prove to be a difficult test for Pardew’s confidence-stricken side.
Allardyce’s side are spearheaded by the recaptured form of Defoe – who has 13 goals in all competitions this season – and some shrewd January signings that include the likes of Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchhoff. This is in complete contrast to Palace, who lack a regular goal scorer and only made one signing in January – Emmanuel Adebayor, who has failed to make a significant impact so far and was substituted at half-time on Saturday following a poor performance. Wickham is expected to play as a lone striker for the Eagles, but will have to face a hostile reception from his former clubs' fans.
Sako expected to return
Pardew will be boosted by the return to full fitness of Bakary Sako, who has been sidelined through injury since December, and in his pre-match press conference the Eagles boss claimed Sako will travel with the squad and is available to play a part. Further good news is that Bolasie is likely to start following his substitute appearance against West Brom. The winger has not started a game since mid-December and could be the catalyst for a revival for Palace, while his introduction at half-time was key to his side’s comeback in the second-half of the 3-2 defeat at the Hawthorns.
Meanwhile, Sunderland will be without Duncan Watmore and Jeremain Lens, who both miss out through injury.
The key battle at the Stadium of Light will be between Palace’s two wingers – expected to be Wilfried Zaha and Bolasie – and the two Sunderland full-backs. Sunderland could play with a 3-5-2 formation which the Palace's wide men could easily exploit as Patrick van Aanholt and Deandre Yedlin natural enjoy going forward, which has been known to create gaps down the sides of Sunderland's defence. However, if Allardyce opts to go with a flat back four, Zaha and Bolasie could find themselves having more defensive responsibilities.
Sunderland: Mannone; Yedlin, Kone, O’Shea, Kirchhoff, van Aanholt; N’Doye, Cattermole, M’Vila, Khazri; Defoe.
Crystal Palace: Hennessey; Kelly, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Cabaye, Ledley; Zaha, Mutch, Bolasie; Wickham.