Alan Pardew believes Chelsea are stronger than when they coasted to the Premier League title last season ahead of Crystal Palace’s trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Chelsea have made an indifferent start to the defence of their title, drawing at home to Swansea City before losing 3-0 at Manchester City and then winning 3-2 at West Brom last weekend.
The champions were reduced to 10 men in two of those matches, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois dismissed against Swansea and captain John Terry given his marching orders at The Hawthorns.
Pedro scored on his debut against Tony Pulis’ side following his move from Barcelona, while Jose Mourinho has also brought in the likes of Radamel Falcao and Baba Rahman.
Mourinho will be expecting his side to put on a show in what will be his 100th Premier League home game in charge and his 200th in total in the top tier.
Chelsea did the double over Palace last season and Pardew is braced for another tough afternoon when his side attempt to secure a third win in their first four top-flight matches – and a first away victory against their London rivals since 1982.
“Chelsea is always a difficult game, especially at home,” said the former Newcastle United manager.
“They can counter-attack you at any time, and the concentration levels needed to win there are really high.
“We performed almost to our maximum last year and still got beat, so we need to be at our best to stand a chance of winning. We’ve won three out of four. So we’re in great shape going into the game.
“But I think they have a side that looks to be better than last year, and that side won the league.
“Chelsea aren’t quite in the groove they were when we played them last time – and neither are we.
“They were really at their best, and we were really in form, but it’s so early on, so both teams won’t be at the highest level yet.
“We haven’t been as fluent as I’d like, but we’ve been exciting and we’ve had some great moments, and we’ve got players who can change a game at any moment.”
Pedro is set to make his home debut after such an eye-catching first performance in English football against Albion.
Terry will not feature as he serves a one-match ban for his dismissal, so Gary Cahill will most likely earn a recall to the starting line-up. It remains to be seen if Victor Moses and Oscar (both knocks) will return.
Palace, who needed extra time to Shrewsbury Town 4-1 in the League Cup second round on Tuesday, will welcome back winger Yannick Bolasie from compassionate leave following the death of his father.
Mile Jedinak has been ruled out with a hamstring injury sustained against Shrewsbury, while Pardew confirmed that Alex McCarthy will keep his place despite the return of long-serving goalkeeper Julian Speroni.