17:30 GMT, Saturday 10th March, Stamford Bridge (London, England) BT Sport
With only 2 wins from their 8 Premier League fixtures this year, the wheels have fallen off Chelsea’s hopes of a second-placed finish. Sitting 5th and 5 points away from the top-four, there’s a real chance they could again miss out on Champions League football next season. Because of this, Antonio Conte’s side may prioritise their midweek clash in Barcelona, however, to underestimate a Palace side suffering a spate of injuries could sink them further in the mire if they drop that basket of eggs on Wednesday evening.
A run of 3 straight defeats and 6 without a win have seen the Eagles fall off their mid-table perch and into the relegation zone in recent weeks. Battling displays against Tottenham and then Manchester United have left them empty-handed in terms of points, however, there was great heart to take out of these performances. This weekend sees the third instalment of their triple bill of top-five teams and it comes against a team they beat in October to end their infamous poor start to this season.
Last Time Out
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea (Premier League)
The Blues were devoid of any attacking-purpose in a game which was often played at a walking pace. Antonio Conte came under increased criticism with a negative performance from his team which failed to put a shot on target against the league-leaders.
While the Citizens clocked up over 900 passes in the match, Chelsea produced no shots during a first half in which they were happy to contain their opponents while not pressing the Sky Blues in the middle third of the pitch.
When Bernardo Silva put the home side ahead only a minute into the second half, many expected the Chelsea players to step up their efforts in search of a reply. A lack of ambition produced no such response from Conte’s men and the game ambled to a drab conclusion and a second successive defeat in Manchester in the space of eight days.
Crystal Palace 2-3 Manchester United (Premier League)
Palace lost a two-goal lead in the final half hour before another late goal sealed their gloomy fate for a second successive match. Throughout the first half, the Eagles were the far brighter side. They were rewarded for their adventure in the 11th minute when Andros Townsend’s strike from distance took a deflection off Victor Lindelöf to wrong-foot David de Gea and nestle in the back of United’s net.
The Eagles continued to push and eventually doubled their advantage when a fast start to the second half caught the Red Devils cold and Patrick van Aanholt smashed a shot between de Gea and his near post.
The goal seemed to galvanise the visitors and despite the Eagles best efforts they relinquished the lead. There was another impressive defensive performance from 20-year-old Aaron Wan-Bissaka who was playing as a makeshift left-back, although his lack of experience in taking the sting out of United’s momentum showed Palace’s failure to see out a win. It wasn’t until the 91st minute that a rocket from the boot of Nemanja Matic broke the host’s hearts but there was much left for Hodgson to be happy about from his team’s display.
Conte will be without the services of David Luiz (knee) Ethan Ampadu (knock) Ross Barkley (hamstring) and Tiemoué Bakayoko (knock) for this game. There could well be recalls for Gary Cahill, Álvaro Morata and possibly Davide Zappacosta while N’Golo Kanté has recovered from the illness which kept him out of the match last weekend against Manchester City.
Crystal Palace Lineup
Timothy Fosu-Mensah will return to the starting lineup after being illegible to play his parent-club last weekend. Hodgson has had no further good news regarding his extensive injury list and will be with his decuplet of casualties which include Wilfried Zaha (knee) Scott Dann (knee) Mamadou Sakho (calf) Joel Ward (knock) Ruben Loftus-Cheek (ankle)Yohan Cabaye (thigh) and Bakary Sako (ankle) among others.
Key Battle: Álvaro Morata (Chelsea) vs Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Crystal Palace)
With two strikers at his disposal, Conte played Eden Hazard as the main focal point of his attack in Manchester last weekend. While Olivier Giroud would quite possibly have expected more minutes following his January switch across London, it could again be Morata that gets the nod in attack for Chelsea this weekend. With 10 league goals to his name in the league, much more was expected of the £60m striker this term, especially considering he has only scored one league goal since scoring against Newcastle on December 2nd.
Looking to keep the Chelsea forwards quiet on Saturday evening will be one of Crystal Palace’s standout players of this season. Recently described by Leroy Sané as the toughest player he has come up against this season, Fosu-Mensah has developed his game with the playing time he’s received in South London. While he offers great versatility across almost every defensive position in the team, he is likely to be at the heart of the action in central defence this weekend and could have a big say in how Chelsea’s season plays out from here.
Widely castigated for his approach to last weekend’s game, there will be a heightened focus on how Conte sets up his team for the all-London clash against the Eagles.
Despite consistently finishing comfortably above the Eagles in the league, Chelsea have not had a favourable run of results against their London rivals. There is an even split of 4 wins and 4 defeats taken from their last 8 encounters, with Palace winning the last two meetings by the same 2-1 scoreline.
Chelsea have performed poorly in London derbies throughout the whole of this season, winning none of their last 5 games against local clubs. With his club now left in a precarious position, Saturday evening would be the ideal time for him to break this trend but he will need to make his team far more incisive than they’ve been of late.
An injection of belief
For the Palace players to suffer a second consecutive injury-time defeat will surely be a demoralising blow, however, their most recent match could have had a different result but for the slimmest of margins.
Having just conceded an equaliser to Romelu Lukaku, the Eagles looked to hit straight back at the visitors as they went back on the offensive. A superb shot from Christian Benteke came within a fraction of restoring Palace’s lead, only for a spectacular save from De Gea to thwart the Belgian striker.
If not for that moment of brilliance by the United keeper, Palace would surely have taken at least a point from the team currently second in the table and it would have been a well-deserved point too.
If the Crystal Palace players can maintain their belief and take a positive result from this weekend’s match, they will be well placed to make a late run up the table with a series of more-winnable fixtures. With key players also set to return, they need tangible belief to cling too and it could make a huge difference come the season’s final reckoning.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Crystal Palace
This is arguably a bigger game for the visitors than the hosts who have a Champions League clash with Barcelona in the corner of their eye. While the Eagles will be set up difficult to break-down, Chelsea have struggled to do just this in recent weeks which paves the way for yet another disappointing league result for last season’s champions.
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