Alan Pardew and Slaven Bilic have lavished each other with praise ahead of what the former has described as an unexpected top-of-the-table Premier League clash between Crystal Palace and West Ham at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Palace went into the international break in good form, sitting fourth in the league having claimed back-to-back wins over Watford and West Brom.
London rivals West Ham are likely to provide a stern test, with Bilic’s men unbeaten in their last five Premier League games and looking comfortable in sixth.
Speaking ahead of the visit of his former club, Pardew said: “What you really hope for [after the break] is that we can keep the focus of the group. It’s a tricky situation.
“It is a top-of-the-table encounter, which is good for two teams who weren’t predicted to be there at this time.
“West Ham’s results have been very strong against the best teams. They have a very good squad. They have a fantastic chance of gaining a European place.
“I expect us to get a grasp on the game and dictate proceedings. But we need to be organised, otherwise they’ll counter really quickly.
“We don’t use aggressive tactics, but we’ll be powerful in the game.”
Palace have been boosted by the return of Damien Delaney, Mile Jedinak, Jordon Mutch and Lee Chung-yong to training.
However, strikers Connor Wickham (rib) and Marouane Chamakh (hamstring) and defender Joel Ward (knee) are all still unavailable for the hosts.
Andy Carroll has shaken off a knock that kept the West Ham forward out of the 2-2 draw with Sunderland last time out, while Angelo Ogbonna could also feature after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Manager Bilic said Enner Valencia has not fully recovered from a knee problem picked up in July and Alex Song (ankle) is still out, while Aaron Cresswell an
d Winston Reid are doubts.
Asked about the challenge posed by Palace, Bilic said: “They are good in every department, they are compact but also great on the counter attack. They have great players who can make an impact instantly, out of nothing, so we need to aware of that.
“They have a good squad depth, and every player likes to get on the ball and get behind the defence. Great credit to Alan Pardew, he’s done a great job and Palace are now a very dangerous and difficult team to play.
“I’m sure it’ll be a great game and a very difficult test for us.”
Key Opta Stats:
– The last time that Crystal Palace had more points after eight games in a top-flight season (15 this season) was in 1990-91 (16 points) – they finished third that season.
– West Ham’s Dimitri Payet has had a hand in 14 goals (five goals, nine assists) in his last 16 league appearances (Premier League and Ligue 1 combined).
– Alan Pardew has won 58 per cent of his Premier League games as Crystal Palace manager; he won just 36 per cent as West Ham boss between 2003 and 2006.
– 15 of the 18 goals in games featuring Crystal Palace this season have come after half-time (both scored and conceded).
– West Ham, unbeaten in four on the road, have not gone five Premier League away games without defeat since January 2009 (7).