Crystal Palace v Southampton
Saturday 12:30, Sky Sports Main Event
Match Odds: Crystal Palace 3.185/40, Southampton 2.68/5, The Draw 3.39/4.
At the start of the campaign, this Crystal Palace versus Southampton game looked like a relatively unexciting television pick. Now, however, it's been given life by Crystal Palace's decision to fire Frank De Boer and replace him with Roy Hodgson.
Palace's decision to sack De Boer, just four games into the new campaign, has inevitably attracted plenty of criticism - but there's been somewhat less discussion about how Roy Hodgson seems an ideal fit for the Eagles. Hodgson, who was born just two miles from Selhurst Park, epitomises the type of football Palace have largely played well over the past few seasons.
Palace likely to play on the break
Their best spells have come under the management of Tony Pulis and then Sam Allardyce, two back-to-basics coaches who drilled their team in a solid defensive shape and then depended upon direct, quick attacking. That's what Hodgson is all about, and while he was surprisingly keen to experiment in terms of formation with England, we can expect him to revert to the Hodgson of Fulham and West Brom days - two banks of four, probably with lone striker Christian Benteke supported by an attacking midfielder.
Indeed, the Palace squad looks very well-suited to Hodgson's style of football, perhaps as it was largely assembled by old-school British managers rather than De Boer, who essentially only brought in one player, centre-back Jairo Riedewald. In particular, Hodgson should like working with wingers Andros Townsend, who he got the best from at international level, and Wilfried Zaha, who he handed a full England debut to (before the former Man Utd man opted to play for Ivory Coast).
Cabaye could play advanced role
There are few certainties, however, about Hodgson's system here. Benteke will certainly lead the line, perhaps with closest support from Yohan Cabaye, who often played a number 10 role well in his Newcastle days. Townsend will surely be fielded on the right, and in Zaha's absence it's likely that Hodgson will use a player who can get up and down quickly, a responsible player who will help to protect the backline. Jason Puncheon could fill in there, but Jeffrey Schlupp seems a better fit.
If Cabaye isn't used in a deeper role, then James McArthur is likely to be fielded alongside Luka Milivojevic in the centre of midfield - both will be tasked with staying in position and protecting the defence at all times.
The composition of that defence remains to be seen. There are various question marks - whether Riedewald will be seen as a purely 'De Boer' man, whether Martin Kelly has recovered from two desperate defensive errors against Swansea when seemingly in De Boer's bad books, whether Mamadou Sakho will be deemed fit enough to start. Joel Ward, John Fosu-Mensah, Scott Dann and Patrick van Aanholt might end up being the back four.
With plenty of other storylines so far this season, Southampton have received very little attention. Manager Mauricio Pellegrini has changed relatively little from last season, although the side is playing more proactively and is packed with technical talent. It would be hugely surprising if they didn't dominate possession against a Palace side looking to defend deep and soak up pressure.
Saints struggling for goals
Southampton's problem, though, is that they've scored in just one of their four matches this season, putting three goals past a hapless West Ham side. Manolo Gabbiadini's early form after his arrival in January appears to have been a flash in the pan, although he hasn't been properly provided with service from midfield.
That's something of a surprise considering Southampton have a wealth of creativity. Dusan Tadic, James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond are likely to be fielded in support of the Italian centre-forward, with Steven Davis shuttling forward from deeper to leave the excellent Oriol Romeu minding the defence.
Cedric Soares and Ryan Betrand will push forward regularly, leaving Benteke to Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida. Both are good in a positional sense, but do either have the physical ability to cope with Benteke?
In all, this seems like an ideal opening fixture for Hodgson, against a side who will dominate possession but perhaps struggle to create chances. With Southampton's full-backs likely to leave space to counter into, and Benteke likely to be provided with the aerial balls he thrives on, I'm going to back a home victory for Hodgson on debut at a very favourable 3.185/40.