Chelsea vs Crystal Palace: Five things to look forward to

An important fixture that has a bearing on both ends of the table


(Photo Credit: Lachlan Fearnley)

Chelsea’s hopes of making the top four are in serious doubt, having lost four of their last five Premier League fixtures in what is one of the worst spells of the Abramovich era.

Crystal Palace have extensive injury concerns and suffered consecutive sucker punches against Tottenham and Manchester United as they conceded in injury time to lose both games. They now haven’t won in six. 

Both teams could really do with a win to end their slumps. Chelsea are fighting to remain in Europe’s premier competition, whilst Crystal Palace fight for survival.

Here are five things to look forward to:

  1. 1 An indication of Conte's priorities

    The writing appears to be on the wall for the Italian coach as he has openly courted conflict with the club's chairman. The game of chicken he's playing with Roman Abramovich, almost goading to be sacked, surely can't last much longer. It appears fanciful he will still be at Stamford Bridge next season.

    With a midweek trip to Barcelona coming up, Antonio Conte will be desperate to pull off a shock result and go out with a bang at Chelsea. After failing to do so at Juventus, he will be desperate to make his mark on European football in his only opportunity. 

    The league might appear altogether less enchanting for Conte, in the knowledge he won't be around to reap the rewards next season. Being five points off Champions League qualification, it might be beyond them, anyway. 

    Should he rest key players like Eden Hazard, N'Golo Kante or Willian, it would show just where his priorities lie. 

  2. 2 Crystal Palace love it at Stamford Bridge

    Crystal Palace have upset the odds in their last two away matches against Chelsea.

    At the start of the 15/16, they helped pile early pressure on Jose Mourinho after Joel Ward headed in a late winner in a 2-1 win.

    They repeated the feat last April as Sam Allardyce steered them away from relegation. Early goals from Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke were enough to record another 2-1, after a stunning performance from Wayne Hennessey kept Chelsea out. 

    This would be the first time that Chelsea have lost three consecutive London derbies for the first time since Arsenal did it in April 1974.

    It might be a tougher task to do it again - Zaha, the man of the match last time, is still absent through injury, whilst the form of key men Hennessey and Benteke has severely dropped. The Belgian striker has just one goal in his last ten games while the goalkeeper is looking less than commanding.

    Crystal Palace can consider themselves unfortunate in their losses to Manchester United and Tottenham and should be buoyed by Chelsea's disastrous form.

  3. 3 Can a Chelsea striker state their case to play against Barcelona?

    Alvaro Morata looks miserable at Chelsea. He's been poor for a prolonged period now and is not performing at the level at which is required.

    But only minutes on the pitch can put an end to that. The Spanish striker looks very much a confidence player and scoring goals might just help him return to form.

    Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud has performed well at Chelsea in his brief appearances. His only Premier League start was in Chelsea's only win in their last five Premier League games, where he linked up well with Eden Hazard. He also scored and assisted twice as Chelsea breezed past Hull in the FA Cup.

    Hazard as a false nine was a disaster against Manchester City, and will have sowed the seeds of doubt for the Italian coach in using it against Barcelona again. It worked in the first leg, but only by getting the best out of the likes of Pedro and Willian, whilst Hazard - Chelsea's most talented attacker - was nullified.

    Conte will ask more questions of the system if either striker uses the Crystal Palace match like an audition for the Barcelona match. A confident Morata is still a great option, and he has shown how useful he can be on the counter in big European matches before. Giroud could hold the ball up if Conte wants an outlet at the suffocating Camp Nou.

    It's unknown who Conte will choose, but whoever it is must pass this audition if they want to feature against Barcelona.

  4. 4 Can Crystal Palace bounce back again?

    After conceding a dispiriting injury time winner at Tottenham, Crystal Palace responded admirably in their next game by taking a two-nil lead against Manchester United.

    But after Nemanja Matic's thunderbolt, Hodgson's men will need to do it all again. 

    Spirit can be as important as any other virtue in the battle against relegation. The Kane and Matic goals will have been sickeners, but the last thing they can do now is let their heads drop.

    

  5. 5 Will we see Gary Cahill again?

    There are several concerning issues for England, with the World Cup now less than a hundred days away. The first choice goalkeeper, and central defensive partnership aren't playing football.

    John Stones has only featured intermittently for Manchester City after the signing of Aymeric Laporte, whilst Joe Hart has been dropped at West Ham. 

    Gary Cahill has the same problem.

    As an ever-present in the title-winning campaign last season, he has been dropped after back-to-back calamitous performances against Bournemouth and Watford, as Chelsea conceded 7 goals. After ousting David Luiz, Chelsea have a new look back three with Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen joining Cesar Azpilicueta.

    With the temptation to rotate ahead of Barcelona, and the fact being the new back three has failed to keep a clean sheet, this match could provide an opportunity for Cahill to reintegrate himself back into the team. 

    Gareth Southgate will be desperate for that to happen.

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