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Scout Report: Crystal Palace - Benteke looks to inflict more misery on Sunderland

Saturday's reunion with Big Sam and Patrick van Aanholt is likely to be a tale of headers and set pieces, with Palace both excelling and failing in these areas. But who will take advantage?

Crystal Palace v Everton - Premier League Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

What Has Happened Since The Last Time They Met? (2-3, 24/09/2016)

After completing a heartbreaking comeback in September, Palace found themselves in 7th place with 10 points from six games. And that would be their last win until early December. Despite the summer investment, Palace took just one point in the seven games following the Sunderland encounter, before finally getting back to winning ways with a 3-0 triumph over Southampton. But the damage had already been done for Alan Pardew, and just one point from their following three games saw Pards sacked two days before Christmas.

In an interesting twist of fate, none other than Sam Allardyce was appointed to replace Pardew. But Sam took just one point from his first five games before Tuesday's 2-0 win at Bournemouth gave him his first win - just in time for the visit of his former club. The board have backed him in the transfer window - almost £40M worth of reinforcements have been brought in to ensure that Palace see a 5th consecutive Premier League season.


Tactics

Allardyce had initially deployed the 4-2-3-1 set-up favoured by Pardew, but after conceding eight goals in his first four games, he switched to a 3-4-3 against Everton. And while that did not bring an immediate impact (Palace lost 1-0, albeit to an 87th minute Seamus Coleman goal), their new set-up brought Allardyce his first win, and his first clean sheet, against Bournemouth on Tuesday night. Palace had conceded 40 league goals before the switch (by comparison, they conceded 51 last season) - it was obvious that something needed to change.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

With three centre backs, Palace looked more solid, and this allows the wing backs to push higher up the pitch to support in attack. Patrick van Aanholt, in particular, is given a license to attack and get beyond the half way line, which allows Jason Puncheon to look inside to link with Christian Benteke. On the other wing, you'd expect Joel Ward to be less adventurous in order to allow Wilfried Zaha to hug the wing and to maintain some defensive solidity. James McArthur and Yohan Cabaye offer cover and midfield control in front of the defence.

The main aim of Palace's play is to get the ball wide and into Benteke to take advantage of his physical and aerial prowess. Palace attempted 21 crosses against Bournemouth - you'd expect them to aim for that number against Sunderland. Zaha and Puncheon have combined for nine assists this season and will look to feed Benteke at any opportunity.


Strengths

Height. Joel Ward, James Tomkins, Scott Dann, Mamadou Sakho, Damien Delaney, Christian Benteke and Martin Kelly all stand over 6ft tall. It's no wonder that Palace win 22.1 aerial duels per game, 2nd only to Burnley. They've also scored 11 headed goals, with only Arsenal and West Brom scoring more than them, and have scored ten from set pieces. No defender has scored more goals than Scott Dann (8) since the start of last season.

AFC Bournemouth v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

It's pretty much a cliche now, but they're going to be a huge threat in these areas under Allardyce.

Palace are also impressive in terms of winning the ball back. They make 18.6 tackles and 14.6 interceptions per game, while blocking 8.4 passes per game.

Allardyce's men also show a decent shot conversion success. Their 31 league goals have come from just 88 shots on target, meaning that they score approximately one goal every three shots on target.


Weaknesses

Interestingly, Palace are poor at defending set pieces. 15 of their 41 goals conceded have come via set pieces, which suggests that they're far from organised at the back. You would expect that the move to 3-4-3 and Allardyce's arrival would help to remedy this though. They've also conceded eight goals via headers.

While Palace are strong at winning the ball back, they tend to struggle to retain possession with a lowly 74.7% pass success. Statistically, they've been dispossessed more than any other team (317) while making 300 unsuccessful touches.

Along with Bournemouth, Palace have conceded the most goals (7) from outside the area. Testing Hennessey from range may be something that David Moyes instructs his side to do.


Key Player - Christian Benteke

The Belgian was signed for big bucks in the summer by Alan Pardew, and is likely to hold the key to survival for Allardyce and Palace. With nine league goals this season, Benteke has equaled his total for Liverpool last season, although his effort at Bournemouth earlier in the week was his first league goal in eight games.

Sunderland v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images

But Benteke should be confident that he can add to that this weekend. He's scored more Premier League goals against Sunderland (7) than any other club, with four of those coming in his last three games, including the heartbreaking last minute winner in September.

With a league high 9.3 aerial duels won per game, Benteke should suit Allardyce's style of play down to a tee.


Match Facts

  • Sunderland have triumphed in the last two league meetings at Selhurst Park after Palace had won three straight previously;
  • Sunderland have scored more than one goal at Selhurst Park in the league only once in the last 14 games (1-3, 03/11/2014);
  • Sam Allardyce has won just one of his last five games against clubs that he's previously managed in the Premier League;
  • Jermain Defoe has scored four goals in his last five games against Palace - three of those have come for Sunderland in four appearances;
  • Christian Benteke has scored more Premier League goals against Sunderland (7) than any other club;
  • Christian Benteke has scored four goals in his last three Premier League games against Sunderland

Likely Line-Up

Crystal Palace - Football tactics and formations