A lot has changed for Palace and Brighton since the reverse fixture in early December.
There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel for Palace, while Brighton were thoroughly enjoying a fine run of form. Fast forward to early March and Palace (13th) have leap frogged Brighton (15th) in the table and the latter have been poor in the league of late. Meanwhile, Palace are continuing to enjoy the stability provided under Roy Hodgson. All of this will be irrelevant come 12:30 on Saturday lunchtime as everyone associated with both teams will be raring to go for the biggest fixture of the year for both clubs.
Recent form for Palace has been positive, picking up 14 points from the last 10 matches in the Premier League and only losing 3 times in all competitions since the turn of the year. Within this period there have been some stellar performances, including the two most recent away games, which have yielded 7 goals and 6 vital points against Burnley and Leicester respectively. In contrast, Brighton have only amassed 10 points from their previous 10 games, losing to relegation rivals such as Burnley and Fulham along the way. Despite their indifferent form, Brighton were still above Palace until recently based on their promising start to the season. Picking up three points vital points against Huddersfield last weekend with an unpolished performance will have buoyed the team and fans going into this pinnacle fixture. Given the circumstances, a result on Saturday is still key to both teams for numerous reasons: to move further away from the relegation zone, to prove who can finish higher in the table and to provide the all-important bragging rights.
A concern for many Palace fans going into this fixture will revolve around home form. Palace lie 19th in the table based on home performances in the Premier League with only 13 out of 33 points gained at Selhurst Park. Even more concerning will be the fact that Palace have only scored 10 times at home this season. A consolation is that Brighton have been poor away from home, only producing 8 out of their total 30 points on the road. It is often said that form goes out the window in derbies. However, Palace will have to be a lot more ruthless than they have been at Selhurst on Saturday in order to gain maximum points. This is a good opportunity to find the net against a Brighton defence which has conceded 26 goals on their travels this season.
In this fixture last season, Wilfried Zaha was the hero for Palace by putting the Brighton defence to the sword and providing a standout performance. He has proven to be clinical of late too, scoring 4 in his last 5 games, so he could well be the difference between the two sides on this occasion yet again. Aside from Wilf, there are a number of further players in great form for Palace: Jeff Schlupp won February’s player of the month and has been very consistent recently, Milivojevic has been back to his resolute, ruthless and reliable best, Wan Bissaka returned from injury to provide stability in defence and a threat in attack against Burnley and Batshuayi is settling in having netted twice in the past three matches. If the whole team can channel their recent form into the ferocity of the derby then it could be a difficult afternoon for Brighton.
Glenn Murray has been finding the net recently. He has scored 4 goals this year and is Brighton’s top goal scorer for the season with 10. As all Palace fans are well aware, we will have to be sharp and focussed to keep the talisman quiet in this fixture as he has scored for both sides in the derby. Murray has also scored in his past three outings for Brighton against Palace. Another consistent performer for Brighton this season has been Solly March. The attacking midfielder has contributed to 6 goals overall throughout the season and has often posed an attacking threat from midfield. Likewise, Anthony Knockheart has notched up the same amount of contributions to goals this season and the Frenchman’s ability always has the potential to cause problems. The likes of Davy Pröper, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy have proven to be reliable members of Brighton’s first team this season, providing the structure and consistency typical of a Chris Hughton team which could prove difficult to break down if all players raise their game for this fixture.
Palace are likely to be without Mamadou Sakho after his knee operation last week, leaving Hodgson with the difficult choice between Dann and Kelly, both of who have proven their reliability when presented with the chance over recent weeks. Pape Souarè also remains out on the long-term injury list. For Brighton, Pascal Groß is a doubt with a hamstring injury but Leon Balogun could return to the squad after missing out the last three games with a shoulder injury.