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Opposition Analysis: Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday looking for a third straight league victory. How can they achieve that, and how can we stop them? We take a look at what Sunderland can expect from Alan Pardew's side.

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The Story So Far

Alan Pardew's men currently sit in 8th place in the Premier League, although their start to the season was not what the manager would have hoped for.

Palace carried their miserable post-Christmas form into the new season, failing to win any of their first three games. A disappointing opening day home defeat to West Brom was followed by a narrow defeat at Spurs, before Scott Dann's injury time goal salvaged a point against Bournemouth. A first goal for record signing Christian Benteke helped Palace earn their first win of the season at Middlesbrough, before a resounding 4-1 home victory over Stoke last weekend saw them win back-to-back league games for the first time since December 2015.

The Manager - Alan Pardew

Pardew's cult status as a Palace player - having famously scored the extra-time winner against Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final - has certainly given him some leeway with the Selhurst Park faithful, although certain sections have questioned the manager's ability to take them to the fabled next step.

A run of 14 games without a league win last season (including five straight defeats) saw Pardew come under pressure from supporters, but the Palace board held firm and stood by their man. An FA Cup Final appearance, albeit in defeat, will have certainly helped with that decision. A run of three games without a win at the start of the season, despite some shrewd signings, raised concerns yet again, but back-to-back victories have somewhat allayed those fears.

Key Player - Andros Townsend

Townsend was one of the rare shining lights as Newcastle were relegated last season, and while he has yet to hit those heights this season in terms of attacking output, he burst into life with a man of the match performance against Stoke last weekend.

Pardew has started the winger on both flanks this season, and while his tendency to cut inside onto his left foot suggests that he is better suited on the right wing, Sunday's performance showed that he is equally capable of making an impact from the left. Townsend's ability to cut inside or go outside of his full back and cross from the byline will provide a tough test for either Javi Manquillo or Patrick van Aanholt.

Whoever David Moyes selects in midfield will also need to restrict the space in which he can shoot from distance.

Strengths

With half of their likely starting line-up on Saturday, including their entire back line, standing at over six feet tall, one of Palace's main strengths is their aerial ability, particularly from set-piece situations. In fact, Palace have scored more goals via defenders (with 12) than any other team since the start of last season, and 15 of their 51 league goals last term came from set-pieces.

With Christian Benteke leading the line, Palace will look to cross the ball as often as possible. The Belgian has scored 53 Premier League goals - 17 of those have come via his head. Palace led the league in crosses per game (with 26) last season, and have continued that in their five games this term, averaging 29 crosses per game.

Both Townsend and Wilfried Zaha are pacey wingers with strong dribbling ability, and Sunderland's full backs will have to suffocate the space in which they can cross from.

Weaknesses

While Palace excel at attacking set-pieces, defending them has proven to be a more difficult task for Pardew's side. Only Newcastle and Aston Villa conceded more attempts from set-pieces than Palace last season.

Set-pieces accounted for 15 of Sunderland's 48 goals last season, and while none of this season's goals have been scored in this area, it is certainly something that David Moyes should look to take advantage of, particularly with Lamine Kone, Papy Djilobodji and Jan Kirchhoff standing over 6 feet tall. Adnan Januzaj must improve his delivery.

Palace also concede plenty of chances in open play. In fact, only Sunderland allowed more shots per game last season than Pardew's side. They have reduced that number from 14.9 to 13.2 per game this season, but Palace's pressing game from midfield should leave space in behind for Sunderland's attacking players to exploit. With Scott Dann likely to be sidelined with a suspected hamstring injury, James Tomkins could be rushed back from a knee injury to partner Damian Delaney at the heart of the Palace defence.

While Palace's defence is positionally sound and physically strong, the likes of Duncan Watmore and Jermain Defoe will look to exploit their natural pace between the lines.

Tactics

Pardew is likely to continue with the 4231 formation that has brought Palace back-to-back victories. Townsend and Zaha will provide width, with Jason Puncheon free to roam in the space behind Benteke, although it's likely that Palace's attacking trio will interchange on a frequent basis. With Benteke leading the line, Palace will look for the Belgian to bring the attacking trio into play in and around the Sunderland box.

Palace have averaged 45% possession away from home, compared to 56% at Selhurst Park, suggesting that Pardew is likely to set his team up to play on the counter attack. Joe Ledley and James McArthur will look to press and win the ball in the middle third before exploiting the pace of Townsend and Zaha down the flanks.

Likely Line-Up

Crystal Palace - Football tactics and formations

Last Season

Sunderland traveled to Selhurst Park in November 2015 seeking a first away win of the season. Following a 6-2 defeat at Everton in the previous away fixture, Sam Allardyce continued with a three man defence. This time however, the Sunderland defence managed to keep Palace at bay, restricting their ability to get the ball into the box. Jermain Defoe, Steven Fletcher and Patrick van Aanholt wasted chances to give The Lads a first half lead, but Defoe ensured that three points returned to Wearside when he capitalised on a defensive mix-up with just ten minutes remaining to seal a 1-0 victory.

In the return fixture last March, Connor Wickham looked to have come back to haunt his former club, having scored twice in six minutes to cancel out Dame N'Doye's deflected opener. But with time running out, Fabio Borini smashed a superb drive past Wayne Hennessey to ensure that Sunderland took home a share of the spoils.