Crystal Palace v Watford: Eagles turning a corner?

Sakho a great signing – theguardian.com

Crystal Palace have unfinished business with Watford. In Sam Allardyce’s first game in charge in the reverse fixture, his side enjoyed an impressive first half, taking a deserved lead through Yohan Cabaye’s strike. They could have doubled their lead after the break but Christian Benteke missed the spot kick so when Troy Deeney scored his, the game ended all square.

The Eagles lost six of the subsequent seven league games. It seemed encouraging but fruitless performances were accompanied only by heavy defeats, notably against West Ham and bottom of the table Sunderland. Progression under ‘Big Sam’ has been slower than they might have liked but successive wins for the first time since September offer signs of encouragement.

Victories over Middlesbrough and West Brom have both been to nil, which seems significant considering Palace only won two games to nil throughout 2016! That figure is three for Watford, who have looked defensively questionable since the summer arrival of head coach Walter Mazzarri.

They conceded four goals against Southampton in a 4-3 defeat last time out and yet, one might argue Heurelho Gomes did not have a bad game. He made an error for the Saints’ third goal but also pulled off some superb saves that ensured a narrow margin of defeat.

Watford’s main problem was a failure to deny space in the final third. Looking at the Player Positions tab on WhoScored, Jose Holebas acted as a left wing-back, even if the team was otherwise built as a 4-4-2. Daryl Janmaat’s injury has not helped because Younes Kaboul does not have the pace to play at right-back or right centre-back, especially when the man just in front of him is M’Baye Niang, a forward by trade.

Niang has shown flashes of what he can do when on the right of a front three, such as the game he had against 10-man Burnley. The same can be said of quick, sharp and skilful forward Isaac Success, who has struggled for starts for a variety of reasons including injury. That is a fate also suffered by powerful winger Nordin Amrabat, who looked menacing on the right during the first four months of the campaign.

Crystal Palace’s key wingers at West Brom last time out were second half goalscorers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend, the latter running almost the length of the pitch to score. At the other end, Mamadou Sakho has been a steady presence at centre-back, forming a fine partnership with James Tomkins.

Watford have not had a bad season but remain prone to giving away poor goals, while Palace have begun to tighten up.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1
Betting tip: Zaha to be the last goalscorer at 7/1