Our EPL scribe runs the rule over Monday's fixture between Watford and Crystal Palace.
A week ago, it would have seemed unlikely that the Boxing Day clash between twelfth-placed Watford and a fairly desperate Crystal Palace outfit at Vicarage Road would be one of the more interesting post-Christmas encounters. However, the recent sacking of beleaguered Palace boss Alan Pardew (not to mention the fevered rumors about a certain disgraced England manager’s unlikely-seeming return from the football wilderness to take over the reins at Selhurst Park), has thrown the spotlight on a game that many neutrals may have been less than enthusiastic about.
Watford v Crystal Palace | Monday 26 December | Vicarage Road | 14:30
To Win (90 Mins)
Watford 27/20 | Draw 22/10 | Palace 39/20
A pulsating 3-2 triumph over Everton notwithstanding, it has been a pretty dismal recent run of form for Walter Mazzari’s Watford. After a high-flying start to the season which saw them reach the giddy heights of European positions, it has been a humbling turnaround for the Hornets. Five losses in their last seven outings (including a brutal 6-1 dismantling by Liverpool and an agonizing 1-0 loss to struggling Sunderland) have seen them plummet down the league table. An alarmingly brittle defense coupled with misfiring front men Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney will give Mazzari cause for concern, although the visit of a rather hapless Crystal Palace team could be just the tonic needed to stave off a mid-season disintegration.
The Hornets aren’t helped by the probable absence of Sebastian Prodl from their already leaky defense, meaning it’s likely that Miguel Britos and Younes Kaboul will be the de facto center-back partnership. Expect a 4-4-2 formation, with Valon Behrami and Etienne Capoue consolidating in the center of midfield. The sprightly Nigerian Isaac Success could challenge for a position on the left-wing, though it will likely be Zuniga and Amrabat tasked with getting behind a fragile Palace defense and feeding strikers Deeney and Ighalo.
Needless to say, Crystal Palace are a club in crisis. Talk of rousing Sam Allardyce in order to perform a trademark rescue act are certainly understandable considering the club’s abysmal recent run of results. Eight losses in the last ten spelt doom for Pardew and leaves Palace one point above the dreaded relegation zone. Keith Millen is in the caretaker role right now, and he may sense the opportunity to rattle a Watford team who are fairly low in confidence themselves. He could recall Andros Townshend to the starting eleven, and along with Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha (both admittedly way under-par considering their prodigious talent), Millen has the attacking players to cause a minor upset away from home.
As poor as the attacking side of Palace’s game has been of late, it is their porous defense which will cause Millen the more immediate concerns. Only Hull City and Swansea have conceded more goals than Palace, and they will need to rectify this quickly if they hope to remain in the Premier League. To be fair, the back four of Martin Kelly, Damien Delaney, Scott Dann and Joel Ward were reasonably solid against swashbuckling Chelsea, and Millen can take a modicum of hope from that spirited defensive display.
Verdict: Palace 39/20
This is a very tough one to call, considering the unpredictability of both these teams. Common sense would have Watford favorites at home, although I believe that Crystal Palace will rally in their time of crisis and win the second half after a cagey, goalless first period.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets