Crystal Palace v Stoke City
Sunday 14:15, Sky Sports 1.
Match Odds: Crystal Palace 2.111/10, Stoke 4.1, The Draw 3.55/2.
Stoke City have made a disastrous start to their 2016/17 campaign, and another defeat away to Crystal Palace will pile the pressure on manager Mark Hughes.
Stoke have been a solid mid-table side in the Premier League for the past half-decade, and we're simply not accustomed to seeing them in a relegation fight. But with their new signings like Wilfried Bony, Joe Allen and Bruno Martins Indi yet to settle, performances so far have been hugely disappointing. A big improvement is needed.
Palace's victory at Middlesbrough last weekend, meanwhile, means Alan Pardew is unlikely to make major changes. However, he will be without midfield playmaker Yohan Cabaye, with Joe Ledley likely to come into the side alongside James McArthur, although Mathieu Flamini is another option if Pardew wants a more cautious approach. Against a Stoke side lacking in confidence, however, there's no reason for Palace to sit back.
Although Palace are yet to fully spark into life this season, their starting XI offers reason for optimism. In recent years they've generally been defensively solid, dynamic down the flanks, but lacking a prolific goalscorer upfront.
Christian Benteke, though, offers a classic penalty box threat and thrives on crosses, which is crucial considering how much of Palace's play goes down the flanks. There are legitimate questions about the consistency of Wilfried Zaha's delivery, while Andros Townsend is eternally frustrating with his tendency to shoot from poor positions, although this happens less regularly when he's fielded from the left, as should be the case here. But Benteke has impressed so far, and should continue to lead the line effectively.
Without Cabaye, though, Palace lack someone capable of dominating the midfield. McArthur and Ledley is a decent combination and reliable in a positional sense, but they're unlikely to play particularly ambitious passes into attack. The number ten position seems set to be filled by Jason Puncheon, who is another good counter-attacker and a reasonably regular goalscorer too. But again he's not overwhelmingly creative, and Palace's attacking, more than ever, seems set to be based down the flanks. Stoke full-backs Geoff Cameron and Erik Pieters will need solid games if Hughes' side are to get a result.
Stoke's midfield seems superior. Glenn Whelan continued to anchor the midfield effectively, with Joe Allen providing reliable passing quality and Giannelli Imbula given more freedom to push forward and join the attacks. Although a good midfielder in a destructive sense, Imbula is also talented in possession, capable of easing past challenges, and offers both creativity and a long-range shooting threat.
Hughes is still searching for the right balance upfront, however. Bony hasn't yet convinced in his centre-forward role, and it's still not entirely certain what type of forward he is - he appears to like coming short to link play, but Stoke don't always get runners going in behind him.
Marko Arnautovic should start wide-left and offers a good counter-attacking threat, but with Xherdan Shaqiri unlikely to make a return to first-team action on the opposite flank, it's probably a choice between Jon Walters and Bojan Krkic, two very different options. This is probably Hughes' key pick and will dictate Stoke's attacking tactics.
It feels like the Potters' superior midfield will allow them to dominate possession here, but Palace's threat on the break, and Benteke's penalty box presence, means Palace should offer more of a goal threat. A 2-1 Palace victory, at about 10.09/1, seems a good bet.