Crystal Palace host West Ham this weekend at Selhurst Park and will be hoping they can burst the Hammers’ post-Liverpool bubble – the east London side were excellent on Monday as they held the Reds to a draw.
Defensive injuries, though, have meant Roy Hodgson will be forced into making some adjustments to the side that were 2-0 victors over Fulham last week. Although one key stat concerning their opponents on Saturday should make the former England boss’ selection decision far easier.
James Tomkins, who has formed a stoic partnership with Mamadou Sakho at the heart of defence, has been ruled unlikely to play this weekend by Hodgson.
Fortunately, the Eagles boss has sufficient defensive cover to provide a natural replacement for Tomkins in Martin Kelly – the former Liverpool man was called upon for the Leicester clash in December and excelled, despite cutting an uncertain figure in previous seasons.
However, his 71-year-old manager should take a gamble by going with his fourth-choice centre-back if it means he can exploit a little-known Irons weakness.
West Ham splashed the cash in the summer as Manuel Pellegrini took the helm in a bit to rebrand the team; the signings of Felipe Anderson and Issa Diop have been impressive but the latter, a £22m signing from Toulouse, has been unable to plug all the deficiencies in defence.
Surprisingly, the London Stadium outfit are level with Everton, who have conceded the most goals from set-pieces this season, on expected goals (xGA) from set-pieces, with 4.6%.
Palace should look to trouble their opponents in that aspect by flooding the box with big men. Christian Benteke’s availability will be crucial, but starting Scott Dann will significantly boost their chances of capitalising on a dead-ball situation.
The 31-year-old is an excellent header of the ball and has scored some vital goals for Palace over the years, although he hasn’t made a start in the Premier League this season. Hodgson should take a gamble by starting the former Blackburn man, even if he may be more vulnerable when West Ham look to use their pace on the counter.
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