Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/March 10, 2018
Chelsea has lost four of the last five in the league and the need for all three points on Saturday evening, when Roy Hodgson’s injury-hit Crystal Palace team visits Stamford Bridge, cannot be over-emphasized. With the all-important visit to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona in the Champion’s League round of 16 second leg on the horizon, Antonio Conte will be hoping to have all his big guns ready and in top gear for these two very important fixtures. Three of our last four defeats in the league have happened with Hazard playing as a “False No. 9” and I’m sure our Italian manager would have taken note of that sequence especially after the Belgian’s outburst following our defeat at the Etihad last time out. Without mincing words, this match is one that carries grave consequence on both ends of the table with Crystal Palace back in the relegation dog fight while Chelsea are five points from the top four.
This is the 52nd meeting between these two London clubs the first of which came in 1906 when Chelsea was on the wrong end of a 7-1 whitewash in a FA Cup match. Chelsea had the going tough in the earlier matches against the Eagles. As a matter of fact, Chelsea’s first win against the Glaziers came at the sixth time of asking (D2 L3) and we have had it easier against the south London club since then. We have faced Crystal Palace a combined 41 times in the league (Division One, Division Two and the Premier League) with Chelsea recording a total of 19 wins (D13 L9). Chelsea has absolutely dominated the London neighbours in the Premier League era. Since the Premier League began in the 1992/1993 Chelsea has recorded 11 victories against the Eagles (D2 L4). All four of the Eagles’ win against Chelsea have come in the last ten encounters with their first coming in Jose Mourinho’s first season back as Chelsea manager and it included victories in the last two at Stamford Bridge in April on the march towards the title last season and at Selhurst Park earlier this season. Chelsea has only failed to score against Palace twice in the Premier League drawing one and losing the other no thanks to that unfortunate John Terry own goal in March 2014. Roy Hodgson has a favourable record against with 5 wins from his 13 matches against the Blues (D1 L7) and the veteran will be calling on all his experience in his bid to leave Stamford Bridge with a positive result.
Antonio Conte may decide to draft Gary Cahill back into the back three with the Chelsea captain having being an unused substitute in our last three matches. The captain may lack pace but he’s got the experience to co-ordinate the defence and minimizes the recent mistakes that are costing us so dearly especially with the trip to the Camp Nou a matter of days away. The Italian would also be hoping to welcome N’Golo Kante back into the fold having missed the Frenchman at the Etihad last Sunday. Davide Zappacosta might get a look in with Victor Moses likely to be rotated out of the team in readiness for the trip to Spain in midweek. Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata will hope Antonio Conte will ditch his ‘False 9’ policy for this match with both of them having started the game at the Etihad with Eden Hazard being chosen to lead the line alongside both Willian and Pedro. Ross Barkley, who recently returned to first team training after his latest injury concern, will be hoping he gets the chance to impress and make a late push for a place in England’s world cup team. Danny Drinkwater is in the same boat with him not been involved for the national team since turning down a call-up in November to focus on his Chelsea career. Antonio Rudiger had his best performance in a Chelsea shirt at the Etihad last Sunday and it was such a shame it came in a lost battle but the German will be hoping to continue his recent run in the team that has seen him start and completed our last four matches. Andreas Christensen I think needs a rest ahead of what’s going to be his toughest test yet at the Camp Nou but with David Luiz and young Ethan Ampadu, both of whom could come in for him, the Danish Prince may continue at the heart of our back three against Roy Hodgson’s men. Willian, Pedro and Hazard have all seen better days as an attacking force than they all had at the Etihad last Sunday and they will be hoping to remind the fans what they are capable of if they get the chance against the Eagles. Olivier Giroud will likely get the nod ahead of his Spanish counterpart on Saturday with him well attuned to the physicality of the Premier League while Morata is still learning the ropes. Emerson Palmieri will hope to make his Premier League home debut on Saturday with Marcos Alonso likely to be rested ahead of the trip to the Camp Nou having made a late appearance at the Etihad last time out. Willy Caballero might also be called on to deputize for Thibaut Courtois so the Belgian can get his day off ahead of what’s surely going to be a busy day at the office in Catalan next Wednesday. Towards the end of the game at the Etihad, Antonio Conte reverted to a back four of Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger and Alonso with Moses, Fabregas, Drinkwater and Palmieri providing support to the duo of Hazard and Giroud up front and Saturday is as good a time as any for Conte to reintroduce the formation especially with Christensen needing a rest.
Caballero; Rudiger, Christensen, Cahill; Zappacosta, Drinkwater, Fabregas, Palmieri; Hazard, Giroud, Willian.
Last Five Matches: LLDWW
Injuries: David Luiz (Knee) – Out; Tiemoue Bakayoko (Calf) – Out; Ethan Ampadu (Thigh) – Out.
Roy Hodgson will surely have felt hard done by with the way their last two matches had ended having done enough in both matches, against Tottenham and Manchester United, to earn a draw only to succumb to a late winner on both occasions meaning they will begin this weekend’s match in the relegation zone. Hodgson will have Timothy Fosu-Mensah back in the team the Dutchman having been ineligible to play against his parent club on Monday. With their injury list continuing to swell, Hodgson will be hoping for a clean bill of health from his available players. Wayne Hennessey will most likely continue in goal with Julian Speroni, who has been Hodgson’s favourite since taking over, out until at least April but he will be hoping to have both Joel Ward and Johan Cabaye back for this one. Roy Hodgson lined his team up in a 4-3-3 formation against Tottenham in their penultimate game with the quartet of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, James Tomkins and former Chelsea academy graduate Patrick Van Aanholt playing in front of Wayne Hennessey in goal. The trio of Jairo Riedewald, Luka Milivojevic and James McArthur playing in midfield while January signing from
FC Midtjylland Alexander Sorloth and Andros Townsend played either side of Christian Benteke in attack. But for the visit of Jose Mourinho’s team he switched to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation with Martin Kelly coming in for the ineligible Fosu-Mensah the only change in the back five that took on Spurs a week before and Jeff Schlupp, who came in for Riedewald, and Townsend occupied the wings with both McArthur and Milivojevic playing central midfield while Sorloth and Benteke formed an attacking partnership and it almost worked as they raced to a 2-0 half time lead but ultimately they fell just short with Nemanja Matic delivering the sucker punch in the 91st minute. Hodgson might keep faith with the team that fought so valiantly on Monday with Timothy Fosu-Mensah likely to come back in to partner Tomkins in defence. Wilfred Zaha will have a late fitness test to determine his availability and Hodgson will be hoping the result comes back positive as they have missed the industrious Ivory Coast international.
Hennessey; Wan-Bissaka, Fosu-Mensah, Tomkins, Van Aanholt; Townsend, Milivojevic, McArthur, Schlupp; Sorloth, Benteke.
Last 5 matches: LLLDD
Injuries: Johan Cabaye (Thigh) – Doubt; Joel Ward (Muscle) – Doubt; Mamadou Sakho (Calf) – Out; Wilfred Zaha (Knee) – Doubt; Julian Speroni (Knee) – Out; Bakary Sakho (Broken Ankle) – Out; Scott Dann (ACL) – Out; Jason Puncheon (PCL Tear); Rueben Loftus-Cheeks (Ankle/Ineligible) – Out; Connor Wickham (ACL) – Out.
Davide Zappacosta vs. Wilfred Zaha
With Crystal Palace back in the relegation dog fight I’m sure Roy Hodgson will be willing to take a chance on a half-fit talismanic Wilfred Zaha and Davide Zappacosta will have to be at his best defensively to stand a chance against the speedy and equally dangerous Zaha.
Olivier Giroud vs. James Tomkins
If Olivier Giroud gets the nod to lead the line against the Eagles, as I expect him to, then he’s going to have his hands full with James Tomkins who is having a pretty decent season of his own. This will be as big a physical battle as you’re likely to get this weekend. Hopefully our Frenchman will carry the day.
Willian vs. Patrick Van Aanholt
To say Willian’s performance against Manchester City last Sunday will be an understatement as he was almost non-existent, just like the whole team, as an attacking force but he will be hoping for a better outing to add to his recent performances but he’s not going to have it all his own way against Van Aanholt who will be looking to prove a point.
This is a six-pointer albeit at opposing ends of the table as neither side can afford to lose this match because that will mean they are likely to lose further ground on their nearest neighbours on the table. Chelsea need the win, and a decent enough performance, to change the narrative a little bit ahead what’s going to be their biggest match of the season at the Camp Nou on Wednesday. Roy Hodgson will be hoping his lanky strikers will cause the recently shaky Chelsea defence a lot of trouble if they hope to get anything from this match. This will be like a prelude to our trip to Barcelona in midweek and hopefully we’ll be going to Spain on the back of a positive performance against the Eagles on Saturday to prepare for the daunting task that awaits at Camp Nou. Until you hear from me again, as I preview the Barcelona match, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Evening Standard
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