Match Preview: Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace
Stamford Bridge/April 1, 2017
After the distractions of the international break we continue on the road towards our second title in three seasons. We came out unscathed in both of our league assignments in March at the London Stadium against West Ham United, and at The Bet365 Stadium against a stubborn Stoke City side, and now we’re back on our home front as we welcome Crystal Palace to the Bridge. Liverpool remains the only team so far this season to have left Stamford Bridge with maximum points, or any point for that matter. So, Sam Allardyce and his charges will be under no illusion as to the enormity of the task at hand but they can take solace in the fact that Crystal Palace took all three points available in the corresponding fixture last season, a game famous for containing Radamel Falcao’s only goal for the Blues. Conte and his team must be aware that a Sam Allardyce team does not have to play well to win a match, as Watford found out last time out, they just have to stay in the game long enough and maybe they get lucky like they did against Watford where despite not having a shot on target they still took points through a Troy Deeney own goal. We need to establish our dominance from the start because the longer Palace stay in the game the more they grow in confidence and the more frustrated our players might become. I trust Conte would have reiterated to the players how important an early goal might prove for us in this game with Pep Guardiola and Man City on the horizon. We only need 21 points from the 30 available to win the title but that number reduces with every point dropped by our rivals. Allardyce likes to set his team up to deny space to the opponent and then hit them on the counter using the pace and trickery of both Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend. If we are able to stop the wingers from playing or at least minimize their impact then Christian Benteke should pose very little problem for David Luiz and co. Yohan Cabaye is a big threat from dead ball situations and I’m sure Diego Costa will have his hands full with the centre defensive pairing of Delaney and Scott Dann. With the way Palace is expected to line up, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to see Cesc Fabregas from the start and he should be well rested and ready to go having been left out of the Spanish national teamagain for their recent international matches.
Thibaut Courtois was sent home early with a hip complaint from the Belgian camp but hopefully he will be ready to take his spot on the team and if not Asmir Begovic would be eager to fill the void. This game might also come too early for Eden Hazard especially if using him might aggravate the injury with City next on the list so I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to sit this one out or probably coming in off the bench. In the absence of Hazard, Pedro and Willian should be able to get the job done in support of Costa upfront. Pedro played an hour of football on Spain duty and Costa played one full game and scored a goal while Azpilicueta was an unused sub in both their matches. Victor Moses, Diego Costa and John Terry also have slight knocks but they should all be fit enough to make the team.
Injuries: Moses (Calf strain) – Slight Doubt; Hazard (Foot) – Slight Doubt; Costa (Ankle)- Expected to return; Courtois (Hip) – Slight Doubt; John Terry (Knock) –Expected to return
Last 5 matches: WWWWW
Crystal Palace has the joint highest injury causalities in the league but they seem to be managing just fine winning their last three matches by the odd goal. Loic Remy would be ineligible for this match because of the terms of his loan but he wouldn’t have been able to make the team anyway with injury. Patrick Van Aalholt is proving to be a bargain once again but he’s unlikely to feature having missed the internationals with an ankle injury. Results haven't gone the way Allardyce would have wanted but with three wins on the bounce he seemed to have managed to steady the ship and he also seemed to have plugged their leaky defense as well because they recorded those three wins scoring four goals in total and conceding none. They would certainly be in high spirit coming into this one even though they have only won once in our last five meetings (L4). Christian Benteke scored twice for Belgium on Tuesday against Russia and would be high in confidence as well.
Injuries: Van Aanholt (Ankle) – Slight doubt; Loic Remy (Muscular Injury) – Not eligible; James McArthur (Knock) – Slight Doubt; Connor Wickham (Cruciate Ligament) – Out; Pape Soare (Broken leg) –Out; Matthieu Flamini (Muscular Injury)-Slight doubt; Steve Mandanda (Knee)- Out
Last 5 matches: WWWLL
3 Matchups to Watch
- Costa vs. Dann: Diego Costa is expected to be passed fit for this match and if that’s the case he’s going to be matching up against one of the best centre back in the business. To come out on top, Costa would have to use every trick in his arsenal because these three points could be vital in the race for the title with Tottenham and City playing away to Burnley and Arsenal respectively. A goal wouldn’t be bad for his confidence too going into the long run.
- Luiz vs. Benteke: Crystal Palace has scored the joint-highest number of goals from set pieces this season (19) and they would look to capitalize on that strength when they visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. Our defensive trio would have to be on their toes for the entire duration of the match, particularly David Luiz who’s at the centre of the back three. Benteke will be in high spirits following his two-goal appearance for Belgium in Russia. This should be an interesting battle all afternoon.
- Alonso/Moses vs. Zaha: Palace would most likely look to utilize their aerial prowess to take advantage of our ‘supposed defensive handicap’, and Wilfred Zaha would be key to that strategy. This means Marcos Alonso on the left or Victor Moses on the right, depending on where Zaha lines up, must be on the top of their game. Zaha has completed the second highest number of dribbles in the premier league this seasonbehind only Hazard so it’s likely going to be a very long afternoon for our wingbacks on Saturday. Can’t wait.
This should be a pretty straight forward three points for us, on the road to the title, irrespective how difficult Palace make it. I wouldn’t expect Hazard to play unless he’s 100% percent fit because he’s going to be crucial for Wednesday in particular and the long term run.