Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 21/20
Following their disappointing outing at Craven Cottage in midweek, Chelsea will be looking to bounce back when they welcome Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon. With that match, being the 19th of the season, they’ll be closing the first half of the Premier League campaign, while for the visitors, there will still be one left before they get there.
Many things are going in the wrong direction for the Blues right now. They’re arguably the biggest disappointment of the season so far in the English top flight, and that following a very busy summer in which they spent quite a lot of money on reinforcing the squad. Last year’s change of ownership obviously brought a lot of new things with it, not least the sacking of Thomas Tuchel after the first signs of poor form and the appointment for Graham Potter in his place – a move that so far hasn’t produced desired results, but there’s plenty of reason behind the calls for the former Brighton man to be given time to give this team some proper identity and improve their results.
Looking bluntly at the facts, there’s no escaping the one that Chelsea currently sit in 10th place with just 25 points from 18 matches, and their involvement in the battle for the top four is all but over already. The feeling is, if they make it into any European competition, that’s all they can do from here.
Chelsea’s last-six run to date begins with a 1-0 loss away to Aston Villa, followed by a 2-0 win at home against Bournemouth. Then came a 1-1 draw away to Nottingham Forest and a 0-1 defeat at home against Manchester City, and then again defeat at the hands of the reigning champions, 4-0 at the Etihad in the FA Cup. Eventually, they lost 2-1 away to Fulham on Thursday in a game which saw newcomer Joao Felix sent off on his club debut, and Kalidou Koulibaly’s scrappy goal the only consolation as former Blues winger Willian and Carlos Vinicius scored for the home side.
There has been speculation about Potter’s time at the club coming to a premature end, but for now, reliable sources only relay claims from the club that giving the new manager the time he needs to make things work has always been a part of their plan, and it still is.
Felix, who actually played a really good game against Fulham until his studs-up tackle on Kenny Tete earned him a red card in the 58th minute, is obviously suspended for three matches and won’t be involved.
That’s not even close to being the only problem Potter has to work around at the moment. Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy (wrist), defenders Wesley Fofana, Reece James (both knee) and Ben Chilwell (hamstring), midfielders N’Golo Kante, Denis Zakaria (both hamstring), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (calf), as well as forwards Christian Pulisic and Armando Broja (both knee), remain out of action for the time being, while forward Raheem Sterling faces a late test to determine his availability following a hamstring problem.
Kepa Arrizabalaga is the obvious choice between the posts at the moment, despite several questionable moments from the Spanish goalkeeper in recent matches. As for the rest of the team, it mostly depends on the formation Potter goes with.
Presuming he persists with a 3-5-2 despite the Fulham defeat, he might give new man Benoit Badiashile a start ahead of Trevoh Chalobah who struggled greatly against the Cottagers, with Thiago Silva and Koulibaly practically certain in the lineup.
Mateo Kovacic should keep his place in the middle of the park, with Jorginho coming in to replace the injured Zakaria, and it should be interesting to see of Conor Gallagher gets a start ahead of Mason Mount. Out wide, Azpilicueta should be covering the right flank, and Marc Cucurella is likely to return to the left ahead of young Lewis Hall.
Upfront, Kai Havertz could be joined by Hakim Ziyech with Felix unavailable, but new signing David Datro Fofana is also an option.
Crystal Palace are a very different team under Patrick Vieira than the one they were before. They used to be a classic English lower-half team, happy to let the opponent have the ball and defend, waiting for counterattacking opportunities. Now, they seek to keep the ball under their control and play an attacking brand of football, and quite frankly, it’s a refreshing change for the neutral viewers, even if the results and table standings remain practically the same.
The Eagles are currently in 12th place with 22 points, relatively comfortable with seven points and five teams between them and the relegation zone, and given the fierce competition directly above, they won’t be too bothered with not being involved any race for the spots leading into Europe next term.
Palace’s last-six run in all competitions includes a goalless draw followed by a penalty shootout loss away to Newcastle in the Carabao Cup, a 1-0 defeat away to Nottingham Forest, a surprising 0-3 home defeat to Fulham in which defender Tyrick Mitchell picked up a first-half red card, a 0-2 win away to Bournemouth, a rather harsh 0-4 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur, and a 1-2 FA Cup defeat to Southampton at home. All in all, not a great patch of form.
Defender Nathan Ferguson (Achilles tendon) and midfielder James McArthur (groin) are getting closer to returning to action, but they’re not ready yet. On the other hand, Mitchell is available for selection again, having served his three-game ban.
Vicente Guaita will be between the posts, with Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi as the centre-back pair, flanked by Nathaniel Clyne and Mitchell. Cheick Doucoure and Jeffrey Schlupp are the likeliest pairing in the middle of the park, with the trio of Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze and Michel Olise further up, and either Jordan Ayew or Jean-Philippe Mateta spearheading the attack.
This game is obviously a must-win for Chelsea at this point, but it certainly won’t be easy. While they have the greater quality on paper, Palace certainly have what it takes to take advantage of their current predicament, which means any outcome is possible.
Goals are likely to come at both ends of the pitch.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 21/20
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