Chelsea make the short journey south-west to take on a point-less Crystal Palace, hoping to heap further misery on them
The Eagles have had their wings clipped this season so far – 7 games, 7 losses, zero goals scored and 17 conceded in the league. And with further news that some of their top players including Christian Benteke may not be available this weekend, looks like it cannot get any worse.
Add to that a managerial sacking just 4 games in to the season, it seems like the proud South London club have hit rock-bottom. The good news, though, is that the only way to move now is up.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are on a good run of form, halted only by a classy Manchester City display just before the international break. The two-week break also brought a string of bad news in terms of injuries to the champions with key players missing out on this trip, and maybe even games further on.
We take a look at how the teams set up:
Team News & Tactics
The biggest injury worry for manager Roy Hodgson is the absence of his two first-choice strikers in Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham. Apart from that, Scott Dann and Papa Souare will face a late fitness test, with Wilfried Zaha possibly joining the duo.
James Tomkins and Timothy Fosu-Mensah return, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek misses out being ineligible to face his parent club.
They will be expected to line up in a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation, with an emphasis on not losing the game. Given the plethora of injuries they have, a draw might not be a bad result. The one thing that they can count on, however, are the Selhurst Park faithful, who will dutifully support their team come rain or shine.
It comes as no surprise that the home side are the worst attack and defence in the league, with goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey producing a league-high 28 saves so far. Combine that with a toothless attack, we understand why Palace are where they are.
This, however, represents the best opportunity for them to kick their season off with a morale-boosting result.
Probable lineup (4-2-3-1): Hennessey (GK), van Aanholt, Tomkins, Sakho, Fosu-Mensah; Cabaye, Milivojevic; McArthur, Puncheon, Townsend; Sako
In his pre-match press conference, Antonio Conte confirmed that both Alvaro Morata and N’Golo Kante will miss out on this game. They join Danny Drinkwater on the treatment table, who still remains on the road to recovery. David Luiz is back in contention after missing out due to suspension last time around.
In the absence of his first-choice striker and midfield general, the Italian hinted he could pop a few surprises in his favoured 3-4-3 formation. That Luiz will return to the centre-back role is guaranteed, but the personnel in front of him in holding midfield and wing-backs remains anyone’s guess.
With an eye on the upcoming away Champions League game in Rome, we could see the Davide Zappacosta get a start. Palace are on a trough at the moment, which means they will try and defend what they have. A wall of defenders will be expected to face up to Chelsea’s attackers almost every time they venture forward.
The visitors will have to rely on the guile of their midfielders to find the right pass behind the opposition defence, and in Cesc Fabregas they have an expert proponent of that skill. The Spaniard, incidentally, is one goal away from 50 in the Premier League.
The Blues will desperately miss Kante in his usual role though. The diminutive Frenchman expertly breaks down play and links defence to attack with his excellent distribution. Although Bakayoko has the latter skill nailed-on, his tackling remains slightly more questionable having committed a league-high 14 fouls so far.
Probable starting line-up (3-4-3): Courtois (GK), Christensen, Luiz, Azpilicueta; Alonso, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Zappacosta; Hazard, Pedro, Batshuayi
Player to watch out for
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Still on the road to recovery after an ankle operation in the summer, he scored twice for his country against Cyprus, putting in an impressive display. He has been consistently getting minutes under his belt, be it for country or club.
He will be expected to start this game, and given the time he has put in training and recovering, it looks like he is well on his way to try and replicate his world-beating form from last year.
- Crystal Palace are on an 8-match losing streak, in which they have not scored even once. If they lose this one too, they will become the first team in league history to lose the first 9 without scoring a single goal.
- Chelsea are on a run of 5 consecutive away wins. If they win this, Conte will become only the second manager to record two 6-match away winning streaks
- Roy Hodgson has never lost his first 4 matches in charge of any team
- Chelsea have failed to score in 2 of their last 3 games in the Premier League – the same number as in their previous 36
Crystal Palace 0-2 Chelsea
Although it will be a hostile atmosphere, Chelsea should expect a comfortable afternoon on the pitch. Our prediction may mean that Palace will create unwanted history of becoming the first team to lose their first 9 games without scoring.
With a relatively easy fixture list coming up for the Eagles after the Blues visit, they can hope to kick-start their season then. This, however, looks like a sure-fire win for the away side.