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Covid-19 is beginning to wreak havoc with the Premier League fixture list once more. This match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is scheduled to go ahead as things stand, but the situation can change quickly and a late postponement cannot be ruled out. Spurs have already been hard hit by the United Kingdom’s latest outbreak, and their 2-2 draw with Liverpool on Sunday was their first outing since December 5.
Antonio Conte will have been delighted with how his team performed in that match against the Reds. Many wondered whether Spurs would be short of match sharpness having been out of action for a fortnight, but the break seemed to do them good. Tottenham were the better team against one of the strongest sides in Europe. They were intense and aggressive both with and without the ball, and they created numerous chances by playing balls in behind Liverpool’s high defensive line.
The game plan will be different against Crystal Palace. Spurs were able to play reactive, counter-attacking soccer last time out, but they will have much more possession on Sunday. The home fans will expect to see their team take the game to Palace, but Tottenham will also have to show patience if they are unable to make a breakthrough early on.
Spurs have played three games fewer than some of the teams around them in the table. They will probably be playing catch-up for the remainder of the season, and Conte will hope there are no more disruptions going forward. The Italian is still looking to build momentum after taking charge at the start of last month, and upcoming games against Palace, Southampton and Watford provide him and his players with a great opportunity to do just that.
After 17 games last season, Crystal Palace had 22 points. At the same stage of the current campaign, they have 20 to their name. Yet Palace fans are much happier now than they were around 12 months ago. Whereas Roy Hodgson played pragmatic, defense-minded soccer for most of his four-year tenure at Selhurst Park, Patrick Vieira has introduced a front-foot style within a few months of being handed the reins. Palace fans are enjoying watching their team play again.
That is not to say there have not been issues this season. The Eagles have won just four games – only five teams have emerged victorious on fewer occasions. They have conceded 11 goals from set-pieces, comfortably the worst record in the division. And Palace have at times struggled to impose themselves on matches away from home, such as in recent 1-0 defeats at Leeds United and Manchester United.
Even so, Vieira deserves great credit for the work he has done so far. It is not easy to completely overhaul a team’s style of play, but the Frenchman has managed to do that in a short space of time. His task was aided by some astute recruitment in the summer transfer market, led by the sporting director Dougie Freedman, with Conor Gallagher, Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen having all impressed up to now.
Palace should comfortably avoid relegation this season, but they will need to be more consistent if they are to secure a top-half finish. With just one victory in their last six league outings, Vieira would love to see his side return to winning ways here.
Tottenham have taken 10 points from the last 12 on offer in the Premier League, and it could easily have been more had they taken their chances against Liverpool. They were mediocre at best under Nuno Espirito Santo, but with Conte at the helm Spurs now have a real chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
Tottenham have kept clean sheets in three of their five league matches under their new manager, but the biggest improvement has come in attack. Nuno’s side was passive, predictable and meek. Conte’s team is anything but. Spurs have scored two goals in each of their last four top-flight matches. Son Heung-min looks sharp, Harry Kane is gradually getting back to his best, and Dele Alli’s display against Liverpool offers hope that he could yet become a key player for Tottenham again.
To pick up all three points on Boxing Day, Spurs will need to strike the right balance between attack and defense. Palace can cause problems on the counter-attack, with Wilfried Zaha one of the best dribblers in the division. Tottenham must also be mindful of Gallagher’s energy and Christian Benteke’s aerial threat, should the Belgian be given the nod over Odsonne Edouard up front.
Yet while Palace’s chances should not be dismissed, Spurs will expect to score a few against a defense that has not kept a clean sheet in six matches. Back over 2.5 goals in this one.
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|Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace Information|
|Teams||Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace|
|Location||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England|
|Time||Sunday, 26 December 2021, 10.00 AM EST|
|How to watch||NBC Sports|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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