After four of our opening five games being against the league’s ‘top 6’, we are now set for a slightly more generous run of fixtures – however the trip to Selhurst Park will be anything but easy.
It’s perhaps a welcome reminder that, between now and Christmas, next month’s trip to Old Trafford is only game against on of the Premier League big boys – although no game is every easy when you’re struggling and in desperate need of a win.
The good news is that the Rafa has declared both Jonjo Shelvey and Jamaal Lascelles fit for this one, with Rondon also likely to return after missing out last weekend following a late return from international duty.
To have our best defender and captain, our most creative player and our best striker in the starting line up could be the huge boost we need – with us yet to play a game this season where all three have started.
One worry is how we contain Crystal Palace and their main man Wilfred Zaha. Is there a player a Premier League team relies on more? I don’t think so – and that’s perhaps a reflection of how good Zaha is more so than how good the rest of Palace’s squad are.
Keeping him quiet will be key, but we must show so much more in attack, up our intensity and stand up to the test – with us needing to weather any storms that come our way and give them something to think about at the other end if we’re to get all three points here.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett – Diame, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez, Kenedy – Rondon
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in the Palace side:
Wilfred Zaha: One of the best players outside the top 6 and without doubt Palace’s biggest threat. Keep him quiet and there’s a good chance they’ll struggle; but doing that is far easier said than done. He’s powerful, explosive and relentless in attack. The biggest ‘one to watch’ without a shadow of a doubt.
Patrick Van Aanholt: One of the most attacking left-back’s in the country and someone Ritchie and Yedlin will have to keep a close eye on. That being said, we could look to exploit the fact he’s so attacking at the other end of the pitch.
Mamdou Sakho: A solid defender and fierce competitor but someone who never convinces me on the ball; having a tendency to look like Bamby on ice when he gets it. We might just force a mistake if we pressure him as he often takes risks on the ball.
James Tomkins: A real threat from set pieces – which will be something to watch given we’ve conceded more chances from set pieces than any other side in the Premier League.
Predicted Palace XI – (4-3-3) Hennessey – Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt – Kouyate, Milivojevic, McCarthur – Townsend, Ayew, Zaha.
Rafa Benitez has confirmed that Jonjo Shelvey and Jamaal Lascelles are fit, with his message of a fully fit squad also suggesting that Salomon Rondon could return.
For Palace, Christian Benteke has been ruled out, whilst Scott Dann, Connor Wickham and Pape Souare are also unavailable.
As I’ve alluded to previously, keeping Zaha quiet will be key – but we’ll have to be far more adventurous and clinical at the other end if we want to come away with all three here.
I had been pretty fearful of a defeat, but the positive injury news on Shelvey and Lascelels coupled with Rondon’s potential return give me hope.
I’ll go for a hard fought draw.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!