Following the final international break of the season, Premier League football returns this weekend and league leaders Chelsea take on a revived Crystal Palace.
Despite being at almost opposite ends of the table, both sides approach the fixture in good form. The Blues are unbeaten in 12 from all competitions, having lost just once in 22 games. This impressive run has seen Antonio Conte’s side stretch their lead over second-placed Tottenham Hotspur to 10 points.
Crystal Palace, after a difficult start to Sam Allardyce’s tenure, have won three games in a row, keeping a clean sheet each time. This has given The Eagles a fighting chance against relegation. They are now four points clear of 18th placed Hull City, with a game in hand.
Their trip to Chelsea, however, marks the beginning of a horrific run of fixtures. Palace face four of the current top-six in their next half dozen matches, while Southampton and Leicester offer little respite in between.
Conte’s Chelsea side has proven to be much easier to predict than play against, with the starting XI rarely changing in terms of shape or personnel. During the internationals, several of their regulars suffered setbacks but each has been given a chance of starting on Saturday.
Diego Costa was given the all-clear by the Spanish national side’s doctors after undergoing x-rays, Thibaut Courtois returned early from Belgium duty with a hip problem (but should start) and compatriot Eden Hazard has told the press that he will be available.
Sam Allardyce appears to have settled on his preferred eleven but faces the challenge of selecting the most efficient formation for getting a result at Stamford Bridge. Recently Palace have begun in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 formation, with the former more likely against the attacking prowess of Chelsea.
The Eagles could, however, go more defensive to frustrate their opponents. Either way, there is a good chance of James McArthur starting ahead of Yohan Cabaye or Jason Puncheon in an effort to combat the tireless N’golo Kante.
Chelsea Crystal Palace
While there remain slight doubts over some of Chelsea’s players, as previously mentioned, the player most likely to miss out on Saturday is Victor Moses. The Nigerian has been substituted in his previous two club appearances and was unable to represent his country last week after suffering from a calf problem. Conte has no major long term injuries or current suspensions to deal with.
Allardyce has been less fortunate with his side, with Jeffery Schlupp set to start in place of Patrick van Aanholt for a second successive game. The Eagles have also suffered from the long term injuries to Pape Souare, who has remained out since a September car crash, and Connor Wickham who suffered cruciate ligament damage in November and will not return this season. In addition, Loic Remy is not permitted to play against his parent club, as stipulated in his loan agreement.
Crystal Palace will cause Chelsea more difficulties than they would have done a few weeks ago, but will still struggle if the hosts are able to field a full-strength side.
Providing that is the case, The Blues, imperious in their quest for the title up to now, should win comfortably.
Score Prediction Chelsea 2 – 0 Crystal Palace