Both sides' flanks hold the key to victory at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, says Alex Keble...
A narrow victory at West Bromwich Albion last Sunday did little to correct the posture of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who - slumped in seat with furrowed brow - still cuts a frustrated figure on the touchline. If this demeanour spreads to his players, then a resilient and patient Crystal Palace could continue their free-flowing start to the campaign.
Alan Pardew’s counter-attacking strategy is well documented; crouching in a tight defensive shell, his highly organised teams pounce down the wings with alarming speed when possession is recovered. Utilising wingers that lurk threateningly high up the pitch, this strategy could be the key to their success at the weekend - or the cause of their downfall.
Three of the four goals Crystal Palace have conceded this season have resulted directly from crosses into the box, and in each case the assisting player was notably unchallenged. This is because the central midfield trio are expected to shimmy across and cover wide areas as part of a narrow 4-3-3 defensive setup that allows both Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha to roam into dangerous pockets of space in wait of the out-ball.
Note how infrequently the wingers tracked back into a defensive position against Aston Villa and Arsenal.
Pedro, a direct dribbler that drives towards the by-line, presents the biggest threat to Pardew’s team; it is unlikely that James McArthur will be able to cover enough ground to provide adequate support on the right.
However, the threat posed on this same flank by Palace could be substantial, particularly if Bakary Sako continues from the left after an impressive goalscoring debut against Aston Villa.
Criticism of Branislav Ivanovic has been slowly building over the past 12 months, and errors against Manchester City and Swansea have consolidated the belief that he is in decline.
The Serbian full-back has been dribbled past 2.7 times per match this season (second-most in the division) and was dominated by both Raheem Sterling and Jefferson Montero in the opening two matches.
When coupled with Cesc Fabregas’s and Nemanja Matic’s poor form (both have missed tackles or been turned on numerous occasions this season), the chances of Palace successfully counter-attacking down the left side seem high. Operating on the same flank, Pedro and Sako are the two key players in this match.