Tottenham Hotspur vs. Crystal Palace: Tactical Preview

An unexpected success story in the Premier League over the past two seasons, Crystal Palace sit on nine points through the first five weeks. Considering that Palace’s only losses came away at Arsenal and home to Manchester City, this is a solid start. Oh, and they beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This impressive Palace side should pose a significant challenge to a Spurs side that played its first Europa League match of the season on Thursday.

Argentine goalkeeper, Julian Speroni, seems to be fit again following a hand injury that has kept him out for the beginning of the season, but for now, Alex McCarthy seems to have the starting role.

In the center of defense, look for Scott Dann to line up next to Damien Delaney. While Palace have fouled more than any other Premier League team this season (14.8 fouls per game), Dann and Delaney rarely do. Expect the midfielders in front of them to do the dirty work.

Joel Ward has been solid at right back this season, even scoring at Stamford Bridge. But the Englishman injured himself in training last week and was replaced by Martin Kelly for the match against City. Kelly looks to remain the starter come Sunday as Ward will be out for several additional weeks. At left back is Pape Souaré, who we can expect to get forward more often than Kelly. 

The first band of midfielders features James McArthur and former PSG man, Yohan Cabaye. Despite playing in a holding role, Cabaye takes more shots (2.2 per match) than every Palace player except Bakary Sako. Look for Cabaye to attempt shots from outside the box when given the opportunity.

No Premier League team has attacked down the wing more than Crystal Palace, who’ve attacked down the wing 79% of the time. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that Bakary Sako and Wilfried Zaha occupy those wing roles. WhoScored.com’s statistical rating system places Sako as the fifth best Premier League player this season. The Malian international has maintained a 88.2% pass success rate – very impressive for a winger. Sako also has the fifth highest shots per game average in the league and has scored twice. Ben Davies will have his hands full, and may have to sacrifice some offensive production to keep Sako in check. In the number 10 role is Jason Puncheon, who leads Palace in chance creation with 2.2 chances created per match. We could also see Puncheon swap spots with Sako and take up a wing spot.

Glenn Murray, Connor Wickham, and Yannick Bolasie have all started up top this season – so it’s still a little unclear who Pardew envisions as his best nine. Chelsea loanee, Patrick Bamford, has also been suggested as a significant factor up top, but has only seen 10 minutes. The bottom line is that, unlike Poch, Pardew has options. Bolasie featured against City last week, but he’s certainly not a sure thing.

Both Christian Eriksen and Ryan Mason remain questionable for Sunday. Should Eriksen remain unavailable, Alli would seem the obvious replacement. But the 19-year-old played a full 90 minutes on Thursday, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Dembélé slot into the number 10 role, only to be replaced by Alli later in the match. The only probable starters for Sunday to have played the full 90 on Thursday were Lloris and Alderweireld. 

The Spurs Projected Goal Difference for the match is -.21, indicating a likely draw, but favoring Crystal Palace. Had Spurs not played a Europa League match Thursday, the outlook would be very different: a +.58 projected goal difference in favor of Spurs. I’m not anti-Europa League, but the statistics show that there is a negative effect on Premier League play (for more on this, see my piece on quantifying the impact of the UEL). Nevertheless, Sunday’s match looks set to be fast paced and exciting, and there’s not much more to ask for in a football match. Except maybe a win.