On Saturday, two sides from the capital, with very different objectives, will face-off as Crystal Palace make a short trip to West London to play the reigning champions, Chelsea.
Antonio Conte has had a tough season at Stamford Bridge—pretty much since the moment they won the league at a canter last May. A troubled transfer window (mired by a difference of opinion at the boardroom level) was not ideal for the Blues to begin their title defense in a convincing fashion. Losing the very consistency that won them the league in Conte’s debut season, the West London club find themselves in a brutal scrap for one of the Champions League spots alongside North London clubs, Tottenham and Arsenal.
The recent defeat to Manchester City has severely dented their hopes of making it to the group stages of Champions League next season, as there is now a five-point deficit between themselves and Spurs. Nothing but a win on Saturday would suffice to remain in contention for a place in the top four.
For Palace, the situation is the bottom-half equivalent of a top-four scrap. It’s a fight for survival. Palace is currently losing that battle as they find themselves in the drop zone. Their position has not been helped by injuries to key players and an unhealthy lack of fortune, if you will. They are 18th in the league with 27 points on board. But given how tight things are in that portion of the league table, anything from Saturday should give them a lot of hope going forward.
On paper, Crystal Palace are better equipped to tackle the challenge, which admittedly looks increasingly ominous by the day. The return of key players in due course will help them start winning games against sides around them in the league. They will go into this game on the back of a dispiriting defeat, having capitulated 2–3 to Mourinho’s Manchester United on Monday.
Crystal Palace’s injury nightmare continues, but Roy Hodgson could welcome back Yohan Cabaye (groin injury) and Joel Ward (muscle injury). Timothy Fosu-Mensah is back in contention after being ineligible to face his parent club, Manchester United. Wilfried Zaha (knee injury) is still a week away, at least, while Mamadou Sakho (calf injury), Jason Puncheon and Connor Wickham (knee injuries) are still some distance from fitness.
- The last time Chelsea lost three home London derbies in a row (against the same opposition in the top-flight) was vs. Arsenal in April 1974.
- Antonio Conte’s side have lost four of their last five Premier League games; their previous four defeats in the competition came over a run of 30 matches.
- Wilfried Zaha has scored in his last two Premier League games against Chelsea, including the winner in the reverse fixture for the Eagles’ first Premier League win of the season in October.
Having won the Premier League in two of the last three seasons, it is easy to understand what Kanté brings to the table—an element vital to boost the chance of success in England: a relentless work ethic.
The French midfielder is a bundle of energy. His presence in the middle of the park ensures that Chelsea’s creative forwards will enjoy more freedom in possession than they are used to. With the home advantage, it is important that Chelsea start on a front foot and Kanté will be crucial to the home side in dominating the proceedings at Stamford Bridge against Crystal Palace.
Andros Townsend—Crystal Palace
Townsend was my key man when Palace took on Manchester United and he was clearly one of the most dangerous players for Crystal Palace with his experience and pace into the final third.
Chelsea’s back three is not the impenetrable brick wall it was for large parts of their title-winning season last year. This means that Townsend should be very motivated to perform at the highest level against one of the best sides in the league, particularly with the World Cup in Russia fast approaching.
Chelsea should edge this.