The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Chelsea
Revenge mission for Mourinho? Or will lightning strike twice at Selhurst?
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Hull 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 2-0 Leicester (Prem)
- Palace 2-3e Newcastle (LC)
- Everton 2-3 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 0-0 Burnley (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Sporting 0-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Chelsea 3-0 Villa (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-1 Bolton (LC)
- Man City 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
It's not an exaggeration to say that Selhurst Park is where the wheels came off Chelsea's title challenge last season. While history appears to be doing a fair old job of painting 2013/14's championship chase as a two-way tug-of-war between Manchester City and Liverpool, this became the case only in the season's final few rounds.
In the seven weeks before the end of March, neither City nor Liverpool topped the Premier League table once. It was Chelsea all the way. From early February until game 31 of the season, the Blues were the standard bearers leading the chasing pack, until a trip to face London rivals Crystal Palace.
The dream died there. A John Terry own goal against a resolute, battle-hardened Tony Pulis-led Palace condemned Chelsea to a 1-0 defeat. It would prove fatal to their season. The next day, Liverpool smashed Spurs 4-0 to climb above Jose Mourinho's team in the table. Chelsea would not top the league again.
Of course, both teams have changed quite significantly since that springtime upset, whether on or off the field. A win for Palace this weekend will therefore be considered even less likely than it was when Chelsea were swatting aside every team in front of them back in March. The form of Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Thibaut Courtois alone is enough to make Palace's chances of a sixth win in 35 league meetings between the two teams seem remote.
Chelsea are already five points clear at the top of the table, while Palace sit 15th after two wins and two draws from their first seven outings.
Eleven points separate the teams already but, mindful of how well the Eagles did not just in their 1-0 win but also at Stamford Bridge, where the Blues were fortunate to record a narrow 2-1 win, Joel Ward is confident.
“We proved it last year, we held our own," Ward told Palace's official website. "Hopefully we can replicate the same form we did last year against Chelsea and take a share of the points, if not all of them."
It remains to be seen what aches and pains spring up after the rigours of the international break, but for the moment Scott Dann (knee) is out for Palace while Adrian Mariappa is an injury worry.
Ramires (knee) and Didier Drogba (ankle) are likely to miss out again for Chelsea, while Andre Schurrle is struggling with the illness that kept him out of Germany's 1-1 draw with Ireland. Top scorer Diego Costa and Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel are also 'doubts' following their international exploits.
Key battle: Mile Jedinak vs Nemanja Matic
This correspondent has waxed lyrical about the talents of Jedinak before and the Crystal Palace midfield leader has simply and quietly carried his excellent form from last season into the early part of 2014/15. Jedinak has 2 goals, 1 assist and is making more than 5 tackles per game - standing him out as the league's most prolific and successful tackler thus far.
Establishing control in midfield and stemming the tide of Fabregas' intricate, clever playmaking will prove a tough challenge, and Jedinak will also be up against Matic in the battle of the midfield strongmen.
Matic has earned rave reviews since returning to Stamford Bridge, but when Chelsea met Everton in August (a 6-3 win) Matic showed his weaknesses and was actually quite poor.
Yes, the Serb scored an important goal and weighed in with an assist, but positionally he was all over the place, either dropping too deep and allowing Everton's midfielders to push forward and threaten Chelsea's backline, or pushing too high and ceding acres of space in behind.
The gap between Matic and Ramires was often chasmic. Everton regularly breached the midfield with one simple pass, helping them get in behind the Blues to create more shots on goal than Chelsea - despite scoring three fewer goals (fortunately for Chelsea, Everton's midfield was even more desperately open).
There's no doubt Matic is enjoying an impressive season, but his 3.1 tackles per game and 1.7 interceptions can't hold a candle to Jedinak's 5.1 and 3.7. Where Matic excels, though, is in his passing.
The Serb's 63.9 passes per game (87.9% successful) make a mockery of Jedinak's 39.6 with just a 66.4% completion rate. An intriguing midfield tussle awaits.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Palace 1-0 Chelsea (PL, Mar 14)
- Chelsea 2-1 Palace (PL, Dec 13)
- Chelsea 4-1 Palace (PL, Mar 05)
- Palace 0-2 Chelsea (PL, Aug 04)
- Chelsea 6-2 Palace (PL, Mar 98)
One wonders if Mourinho still holds the same sex appeal in the eyes of Neil Warnock's wife as he did when Warnock won promotion with Sheffield United in 2006. "My wife will be glad about Mourinho coming to Bramall Lane because he's a good looking swine, isn't he?" quipped Warnock eight years ago, but much has changed in that time. Mourinho doesn't rock the metrosexual European swagger look like he once did, nor the Armani suit. What will Sharon think?
Facts and figures
- Palace defeated Chelsea in their last league meeting. They haven’t won back-to-back league games against the Blues since March 1982.
- Since Mourinho returned to the club as manager on the eve of the 2013/14 season, Chelsea have kept more clean sheets than any other side in the Premier League (21).
- 19.3% of Palace’s passes have been played long this season, a higher proportion than any other side.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Palace continue to pack a mean punch when on song, as Everton found out to their dismay, but Chelsea are more or less the finished article at the moment and the league's most complete side. 1-3.