By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Selhurst Park/October 14, 2017
After the latest international break, the second of such this season, it’s back to Premier League action as we head to the Selhurst Park on Saturday to face a misfiring Crystal Palace side whose fortune has refused to change even after the sacking of Frank De Boer. The appointment of former England manager, Roy Hodgson, has done little to ease the pains of the Palace fans as they are yet to score a goal in the first seven matches of the new campaign and as a result they are odds on favourite for relegation with the bookies, but that is not to say this match is a forgone conclusion if the corresponding fixture last season, a 1-0 victory for the Blues, is anything to go by. A win at Selhurst Park on Saturday will make it seven in a row in all competitions for the Blues tying a long-standing club record from the 1988/89 season.
Crystal Palace and Chelsea have squared up a combined 50 times in all competitions with the South London club recording 11 victories to Chelsea’s 24 victories and the spoils shared on 15 occasions. A large chunk of the matches took place in the then second division. These two have faced off in the Premier League 16 times and again the Blues lead the head to head with 11 victories to Palace’s 3 with the remaining two ending in draws. Palace only won one of their first ten encounters against in the Premier League (L7 D1) that solitary victory coming courtesy of a John Terry own goal on the road to the title in the 2014/2015. In contrast however, they have two victories from our last six matches (L4) with both victories coming at Stamford Bridge in the 2015/16 season and last May when we lost 2-1 with all three goals coming inside the opening half hour. Chelsea has only failed to score against Palace twice (L1 D1). Selhurst Park has been a happy hunting ground for the Blues in recent seasons having lost just one of our last seven encounters in South London (W6). Victory against Palace on Saturday will make it six consecutive away victories in the league for Chelsea following victories over Everton, West Brom, Tottenham, Leicester City and Stoke City. Having lost our last match in the league, victory on Saturday is important for our title credentials and for the rest of the season.
We recorded our first international break casualty on Saturday when N’Golo Kante sustained a hamstring strain playing for France and so will be out for at least three weeks giving Antonio Conte another selection headache. Willian won’t return to London until Thursday hence might not be considered for selection or maybe not from the start. David Luiz will be coming back into the starting XI after serving out his three match suspension potentially in place of Andreas Christensen who was such an able deputy during the Brazilian’s absence. Having sat out the entire loss to Manchester City Victor Moses is line to return to the team with one of Rudiger or Azpilicueta making way. Depending on how Conte takes Charly Musonda’s social media outburst during the week, the Belgian may get a chance or ostracized from the team altogether as deterrent to others that taking to social media to voice your grievance is not the way to go. Both Fabregas and Bakayoko had the international break free to work with the coaches and so are odds on favourite to start in the base of our midfield should Conte decide to revert back to his favoured 3-4-3 formation. Eden Hazard will certainly be in high spirits following his two-goal showing for Belgium against Cyprus on Monday hence should be ready to take on Palace on Saturday. Michy Batshuayi will be leading the line in South London in Morata’s continued absence and he seemed to be growing in to the lone striker role well following his impressive performances for Belgium during the international break. Pedro and Azpilicueta both got 90 minutes for Spain on Monday but should both get the chance to impress Conte again on Saturday.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso; Hazard, Pedro; Batshuayi
Last Five Matches: LWWWW
Injuries: Danny Drinkwater (Muscular) –Doubt; Alvaro Morata (Hamstring)-Out; N’Golo Kante (Hamstring)-Out
Roy Hodgson knows he’s got his work cut out for him with no respite in sight as the big matches continue to pile up since his appointment in mid-September. The quest to score their first goal and secure their first point(s) of the season goes on but that is not helped with the injury to their lead striker Christian Benteke against Manchester City leaving them short up front with only Bakary Sako and newbie Freddie Ladapo their two recognized strikers. There hasn’t been much change to the playing personnel under Hodgson than it was under De Boer. With injury to Scott Dann for Palace’s visit to Old Trafford last time out, Hodgson opted to partner Damien Delaney with Mohammed Sakho and that might again be the centre back pairing on Saturday should Dann fail to recover in time for the match. Former Blue, Patrick Van Aanholt and Joe Ward complete the back four in front of Wayne Hennessey in goal. For the 5-0 defeat to City last month Hodgson chose to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with both Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic anchoring the midfield behind the trio of Andros Townsend Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jeffery Schlupp with Christian Benteke leading the line until his injury. But he reverted back to a straight forward 4-3-3 formation choosing to add Jason Puncheon to the midfield trident with the trio of Sako, Townsend and Schlupp playing further forward. With Benteke out for a considerable length of time Hodgson may be forced to bring back Wilfred Zaha from his injury earlier than initially scheduled to add some much-needed spark to their attack and should that be the case the winger will walk straight into the lineup with one of Townsend and Schlupp making way or it could be a straight swap for the ineligible Loftus-Cheek if, as expected, Hodgson sets his team up in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with Zaha playing just behind lone striker Sako.
Hennessey; Ward, Sakho, Dann, Van Aanholt; Cabaye, Milivojevic; Townsend. Zaha, Schlupp; Sako
Last 5 matches: LLLWL
Injuries: Christian Benteke (Knee) – Out; Connor Wickham (ACL)- Out; Wilfred Zaha (Knee) –Doubt; Scott Dann (Knock) –Doubt; James Tomkins (Illness) –Doubt; Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Thigh Strain/ Ineligible) –Out.
Michy Batshuayi vs. Mohammed Sakho
In the absence of the injured Morata, Michy Batshuayi will likely be chosen to lead the line and should that be the case he’ll be coming up against a beast in Mohammed Sakho. A likely advantage for Michy is the fact that Sakho is not yet up to speed having gone so long without competitive football. I’m excited to see how Batman fairs against Sakho on Saturday if he gets the nod to lead the line.
Marcos Alonso vs. Andros Townsend
It’s looking more and more likely that Alonso needs a little bit of rest as he has been a tad off the pace in recent matches. However, the rest afforded by the recent international break would have done the trick because this not a game to be off the pace, not when you’ll be up against a fast and pacy winger like Townsend.
Eden Hazard vs. Joe Ward
Off the back of his brace for his country earlier this week, Hazard is sure to be in the mood on Saturday and that’s bad news for the Palace defender who also likes to bomb forward when the opportunity presents itself, but I trust he’ll want to cut down on his overlapping runs with Hazard on the loose.
This is such a big game for both these sides as Palace is on the hunt for their first points of the season while Chelsea cannot afford anymore slip ups as they won’t want to fall further behind the two Manchester clubs. Antonio Conte will have one eye on the Champions’ League fixture in midweek with AS Roma coming to London on Wednesday before we host in-form Watford next Saturday. From now until the end of November we have a bunch of winnable fixtures to try and reduce the deficit to the top two and I’m sure Antonio will be working towards that goal. Hopefully we’ll get to see Danny Drinkwater in a Chelsea shirt for the first time on Saturday as we begin another hectic schedule ahead of the next international break. Until you hear from me again in midweek, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High, Blues!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Soccer Sweep
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