Crystal Palace vs Brighton & Hove Albion
Venue: Selhurst Park
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Craig Pawson
A rivalry renews under the Saturday lunchtime sun (hopefully) in the capital, as the Seagulls make the trip up the M23 to face in-form Crystal Palace. It may only be considered a derby amongst the two sets of fans rather than the wider football world, but it can be as fierce as any derby as we are set to see on Saturday.
Both sides go into the game with victories last time out, with Brighton securing a narrow 1-0 win over bottom side Huddersfield Town, thanks to Florin Andone grabbing the solitary goal – his first goal for three months.
Before that goal, the last time he scored in the Premier League was, in fact, against their upcoming opponents, Crystal Palace. It was amongst the three, including a Leon Balogun strike and a Glenn Murray penalty, that the Seagulls put past Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey in a first-half blitz that won the game for the Sussex side before the halftime whistle had blown.
However, since that home win at the start of December, which took them to a season-high placing of 10th in the league, Brighton have not been on the best run of form in the league.
In the 13 league games following the win over Palace at the Amex, Brighton have only won twice, the latest of which was the victory over the Terriers; their first after a winless run of six games. It has been the defence that has been the let down for Brighton in those fixtures, conceding three against Burnley and four away at strugglers Fulham.
The hosts had a far more convincing victory in the previous round of matches, with a 3-1 win away at Burnley, and are certainly the more inform side of the two having lost only once in the last six games in the Premier League which was in fact against a currently rampant Manchester United side. The upturn in form has coincided with the introduction of January loanee signing Michy Batshuayi, who has scored twice in five league games for the Eagles so far, both coming in the last three games.
February also saw the return to form of talisman Wilfried Zaha, as he became that player that Palace had been so reliant on during the opening weeks of the season. The Ivorian has scored five goals in his last five games in the Premier League, including a brace at the King Power, which proved to be Claude Puel’s last game in charge of the Foxes.
If Palace collect all three points on Saturday, they could potentially leapfrog the aforementioned Leicester City in the table, and climb as high as 11th if the Foxes lose to Fulham and Bournemouth fail to beat bottom side Huddersfield.
The visitors could see themselves go level on points with their hosts on the weekend, with only a big goal swing meaning they would actually climb above the Eagles. A defeat for the Seagulls could see them sitting precariously on the edge of the relegation zone, but that would mean the sides directly below them, Burnley and Southampton, beating Liverpool and Tottenham respectively.
The goal scoring form that Batshuayi is in should see him retain his place as the spearhead of the Palace attack, with Zaha and a return to the starting line-up for Andros Townsend, who came on as a second-half substitute against Burnley.
With Townsend back in the line-up, it would mean Jefferey Schlupp moving back into the midfield position he has occupied in recent weeks and a place back on the bench for German Max Meyer. The Ghanaian has had an assist in each of the last three games, including the cutback cross that rebounded off Bardsley for the own goal last time out.
Injury wise, Pape Souaré is close to a return after being out with a shoulder injury. However, it is not all good news for Mamadou Sakho, who had surgery on his knee at the end of February, and has no timescale on his return. Although, it might mean he does not make it back in time to feature again this season.
Brighton & Hove Albion
There are no fresh injury concerns from the Huddersfield fixture for Chris Hughton to worry about. In fact, the weekend could see the return of last season’s Player of the Year Pascal Groß, who was taken off during the away game at Leicester with a hamstring injury. Although he did not recover in time to face the Terriers, his injury has been described as “not as bad as we first thought”, so the German could return to the squad ready for derby day.
There are a couple of players who will definitely miss the game in South London, that being Jason Steele and Leon Balogun. Steele has been ruled out with a wrist injury, and Balogun, who scored his only goal of the season in the reverse fixture against Palace, still has not recovered from the shoulder injury he picked up in training before the FA Cup game with Derby County.
Predicted Starting XIs
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Guaita; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Dann, van Aanholt; Kouyaté, Milivojević, Schlupp; Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha
Brighton & Hove Albion (4-3-3): Ryan; Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo; Bissouma, Stephens, Pröpper; Knockaert, Murray, Jahanbakhsh
Score Prediction: Crystal Palace 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Brighton have only won once in the last eight times they’ve played at Selhurst Park, dating back to 1986, with Palace winning six of them. It will be a close game, but with the form Palace are in, especially Zaha and Batshuayi, they should nick it by the single goal, and all but seal their place in the Premier League for another season in the process.