Crystal Palace v Middlesbrough: arresting the slide

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Ben Gibson – mirror.co.uk

Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough meet as two teams in the bottom five of the Premier League and the bottom four of the division’s form book.

With neither side have much to shout about, it seems surprising that a Crystal Palace win is valued at 11/10, the same price eighth place West Brom are to beat the Eagles the following week.

The South Londoners have won just once since early December and have failed to score in six of their 10 games under Sam Allardyce. Christian Benteke’s dip in form and the shortage of fit alternative strikers has not helped, but major issues lie in midfield. Jason Puncheon looks a shadow of his former self while Yohan Cabaye has struggled with fitness issues, contributing to a lack of drive and creativity from central areas.

Quicker, more attacking players are wide men, including January signings Jeffrey Schlupp and Patrick Van Aanholt as well as Wilfried Zaha, arguably the squad’s most talented player. Allardyce may be tempted to find a system that gives more freedom to full-backs and wingers and encourage central midfielders to sit deep.

A cautious central midfield has hindered the goalscoring prospects of Middlesbrough, who have the division’s worst attacking record. However, they have conceded fewer goals than Arsenal and Manchester City whilst losing the same number of games (11) as 10th place West Ham.

Victor Valdes has shown his class and experience this term, Ben Gibson has stood strong at centre-back and Marten De Roon presses intelligently in midfield. A lack of bravery on the ball and a shortage of forward runners in the final third is an issue to be addressed, but the team’s organization could be valuable.

Palace are among three or four teams who have similar problems to Middlesbrough in the final third and do not have the defensive qualities to compensate.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 0-1
Betting Tip: Middlesbrough +1 handicap at 8/11