Selhurst Park, South Norwood, London
March 29, 2014; 15:00 GMT
Chelsea travel to Selhurst Park this weekend to take on Crystal Palace. This is a must-win game for Jose Mourinho, as the other title rivals, Manchester City and Liverpool, face Arsenal and Tottenham respectively and Chelsea need to capitalize as much as possible this weekend, if they are to lift the trophy in May. A draw, or worse, can draw curtains on their ambitions even before their rivals take the field.
After a disastrous result against Aston Villa, Chelsea bounced back with a resounding 6-0 win against Arsenal. That helped in derailing one contender’s challenge, but not before the West London club had allowed their other rivals to close the gap at the top. They just can’t afford any more slip ups in the remaining 7 games. The fact that they haven’t lost away to Crystal Palace since 1990 will give them confidence to bring home the three points.
The last time Palace won in the Premier League was on 8th of February when Tony Pulis’ men defeated West Brom 3-1 at home. Since then the best they have managed are draws against Swansea and Sunderland, and as a result, they lie just one position of the relegation zone. They must also try to nick a point here, a point there whenever the opportunity presents itself and will look to exploit any chinks that Chelsea might have in their armor on Saturday.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Tony Pulis will again be without the services of his two prime strikers, as Chamakh and Gayle are both ruled out because of injuries. The duo have scored 8 of the 19 league goals for Palace this season, but in their absence, Pulis is expected to field Jerome up front.
In a 4-4-1-1 system, Crystal Palace will start with Speroni in goal, with the back four comprising of Mariappa at right-back, Ward defending the other flank and Dann and Delaney in central defence. Ahead of them, Ledley and Jedinak will occupy positions in central midfield, with Puncheon on the right and Bolasie on the right manning the wide areas. Ince will be deployed as the link between the midfield and Jerome, who’s expected to start in the absence of Chamakh, who has already missed the last three games and Gayle, who picked up an ankle injury against Newcastle.
The best outcome Palace can expect from this game is a 0-0/1-1 draw and for that to happen, they will have to put on a display extreme resolve and concentration, in addition to maintaining a compact shape throughout the 90 minutes. The key here will be to not let Matic dictate the tempo of the game from deep and preventing Hazard and Oscar from running the show further up the pitch. Easier said than done, but we have seen Chelsea struggle against teams that aren’t ambitious and remain focused on the job. Ledley and Jedinak will be crucial on Saturday.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Ledley, Jedinak, Puncheon, Bolasie; Ince; Jerome
For Chelsea, Eto’o is yet to recover from the injury he picked up against Arsenal, while Ramires is suspended. Marco van Ginkel is slowly getting back to full match fitness after being out since September, but will take more time before Mourinho considers him for any serious action.
Chelsea will stick to their tried-and-tested 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cech in goal and defence comprising of Ivanovic (right-back), Azpilicueta (left-back), Cahill and Terry (centre-backs). One man who’s a sure shot starter in all League games in Nemanja Matic; such has been his impact upon his return. Luiz did a credible job partnering him against Arsenal, but Mourinho may opt for Lampard in this game. Hazard remains indispensable to Chelsea’s cause and with Oscar regaining his lost form, he’s all but certain to start behind Fernando Torres. Schurrle has been in phenomenal form of late, but with Willian being fit again, Mourinho might want to give him a run in to keep all options open ahead of other crucial encounters.
This will probably be one of those games wherein Chelsea will not get space from the onset to counter-attack and they will have to force their way through via good interchange of passes and intelligent runs through the middle, and Oscar is expected to be key to their game-play.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Lampard; Oscar, Hazard, Willian; Torres
- There have been under 2.5 goals scored in 12 of Crystal Palace’s last 13 games in the Premier League.
- Chelsea have won their last 4 matches against Crystal Palace in all competitions.
- Crystal Palace have failed to score in 5 of their last 7 matches in the Premier League.
- Chelsea are undefeated in 15 of their last 16 matches in the Premier League.
- Crystal Palace have failed to win their last 5 matches in the Premier League.
Statistics courtesy Whoscored.com.
Player To Watch Out For
Oscar was easily Chelsea’s best player at the start of the season, but as winter approached, his influence and impact on games started dwindling to the point that Mourinho benched his favorite player in major games such as the one against City at the Etihad. Maybe fatigue was the reason, maybe it was due to genuine lack of form, but he was struggling for sure. Of late, he has again picked up his game and his form in the business end of the season augers well for Chelsea. He was good against Galatasaray and then against Arsenal, he completely shut Mikel Arteta out of the game, pressing and harassing the Arsenal midfield, in addition to scoring twice in the eventual 6-0 mauling of the title rivals. Against Crystal Palace, he will look to continue his good form and that can be a problem for Palace at both ends of the pitch.
Crystal Palace 1-3 Chelsea
They may have dropped 3 valuable points before crushing Arsenal, one can’t imagine Jose Mourinho’s men doing the same against Crystal Palace. With Manchester City and Liverpool flying high, Chelsea just can’t afford to slip in these games if they are to stand any kind of chance of winning the title.
Blast From The Past