Chelsea’s defence has one last crack at fending off the spectre of John Stones.
WBA 2-3 Chelsea (Prem)
Man City 3-0 Chelsea (Prem)
Chelsea 2-2 Swansea (Prem)
Chelsea 0-1 Fiorentina (F)
Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (C Shield)
Palace e4-1 Shrewsbury (LC)
Palace 2-1 Villa (Prem)
Palace 1-2 Arsenal (Prem)
Norwich 1-3 Palace (Prem)
Dag & Red 1-0 Palace (F)
On its own, a 3-2 win at West Bromwich Albion stands up to scrutiny whoever you are. Chelsea’s was not without incident – the Baggies’ early penalty miss certainly changed the complexion of the game and John Terry’s red card meant the closing stages were a white knuckle ride for a team that has traditionally shut matches down with a minimum of fuss – but the attacking brio of a year ago was back in fits and spurts, and Pedro showed exactly why he will be one of the summer’s best signings. But it is impossible to ignore that the champions have conceded seven times in their first three games and already sit five points behind a Manchester City side that appears sharper and more switched on than at pretty much any stage of their 2014/15 title defence.
Perhaps what Jose Mourinho and company need is a nice, confidence-boosting home game against a less celebrated rival that passes off with the minimum of fuss, two or three goals and a clean sheet – the kind of outcome they have tended to pull out of the bag at the first sign of trouble. What they’ve got instead, though, is a decidedly tricky-looking encounter with Crystal Palace. “We’re South London, we know what we are,” said Alan Pardew after their opening-day win over Norwich, in an attempt to maintain his side’s status as upstarts.
But Palace are fancied for a deeper run into the top 10, with Yohan Cabaye – who Mourinho says would have the quality to play for Chelsea – their flagship arrival and wide options the envy of most.
Six points has been a good return for them: they just about deserved to beat Norwich on the opening day, were edged out by Arsenal at home and then stuttered a little in beating Aston Villa. Palace have not hit their full flow yet but have the match-winners to trouble anyone, and it comes to something when you would expect them to score at least once at Stamford Bridge.
All of which means this should be close. Chelsea would like to clear this hurdle quickly and painlessly – the transfer deadline is next Tuesday, and sparks such a level of late frenzy that it is hard to definitively judge any team until after the September international break. They will certainly be busy, with John Stones’ saga likely to run to the end and rumours linking them with Paul Pogba refusing to go away.
Ridiculous though it is, matches almost seem an inconvenience until squads are cast in stone; Chelsea may be hitting some sort of stride but there is no escaping this is still a good time for Palace to be stopping by.
Terry’s suspension begins and, unless something dramatic happens in the mooted Stones transfer, Gary Cahill will come back in to partner Kurt Zouma. Oscar may be in contention to return from his calf injury but Victor Moses is still sidelined. Mourinho is unlikely to make any other changes to his starting team.
Palace winger Yannick Bolasie has been linked with a move to Tottenham but, quite regardless, there is a question mark over his participation after he missed the Aston Villa game due to the death of his father.
“I’m not putting him under any pressure to come back... I couldn’t care less if it takes three weeks,” said Pardew, and if Bolasie does return in time to face Chelsea he will probably be on the bench. Marouane Chamakh is fighting for a return to the fold after his injury while Glenn Murray, although not quite firing on all cylinders, should continue up front after scoring against Shrewsbury in the League Cup.
Key battle: Pedro vs Pape Souare
Pedro’s goal and assist at West Brom were the highlights of Chelsea’s performance at The Hawthorns, and his willingness to attack the space behind left-back Chris Brunt was a notable feature. Brunt has spent most of his career further forwards so was perhaps an ideal first Premier League opponent – but Pedro’s appetite for pulling high and wide before darting behind his man, probably onto perceptive early passes from Cesc Fabregas, will trouble better defenders and Pape Souare will need to be on top of his game on Saturday.
The Crystal Palace left-back has had an up and down time of it since joining the Selhurst Park side from Lille in January and, although he improved significantly towards the end of last season, still looks vulnerable when caught too high upfield. Souare will need to be disciplined this time around, even if it comes at the expense of some of his trademark surges in support of Palace’s widemen.
Chelsea 1-0 Palace (PL, May 15)
Palace 1-2 Chelsea (PL, Oct 14)
Palace 1-0 Chelsea (PL, Mar 14)
Chelsea 2-1 Palace (PL, Dec 13)
Chelsea 4-1 Palace (PL, Mar 05)
Neither Mourinho nor Pardew lack confidence. The latter’s can be interpreted as brashness when one of his teams is performing poorly but at Palace his good humour seems justified and there is little doubting that he seems far more at ease in his spiritual home than he ever did at Newcastle. Mourinho’s unseemly early-season squabble with the Chelsea medical staff sparked all manner of op-eds anticipating a full-scale meltdown sooner rather than later; those predictions have quietened down for now but a poor result on Saturday would ramp the early-season pressure up again.
A few touchline histrionics on the cards, then? Perhaps not: after Pardew’s headbutt on Hull midfielder David Meyler while still Newcastle manager last year, Mourinho said the pair had spoken on the phone almost immediately and that Pardew is “a good friend and a great guy”. So any clash of egos this weekend is more likely to translate itself onto the pitch than be played out in the technical areas.
Facts and figures
- This will be Jose Mourinho’s 100th Premier League home game in charge of Chelsea. He has won 76 and lost just 1 of the previous 99.
- Chelsea have scored 199 goals at Stamford Bridge in Premier League London derbies, the joint-most on home soil of any of the capital clubs - level with Arsenal.
- No team has won more points than Crystal Palace away from home in the Premier League in 2015 (22 - level with Chelsea and Arsenal).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Palace are buoyant and the timing seems right for them to come away with a point. 1-1.
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