Crystal Palace have been either boring or solid depending on how you look at their last two performances. Notching two 0-0 draws over the festive period, away at Bournemouth and at home to Swansea City, the Eagles find themselves at a lofty fifth position only four points off Champions League qualification. The two clean sheets will be well appreciated by the fans but failing to score in two successive Premier League games against opponents who are very beatable is not quite good enough for a team in their position. Had the London side beaten both Bournemouth and Swansea, as many would have expected due to form this year, they would find themselves level on points with Tottenham and may have even been considered outside title challengers. However, they are still massively overachieving as it is and the team deserves a lot of credit for their work under manager Alan Pardew. This weekend sees Palace host Chelsea, under the guidance of Guus Hiddink. Having already defeated Mourinho’s Blues at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, Selhurst Park should be rocking and the fans will believe that their team can grab more points from last season’s champions.
Hiddink’s return to the Bridge has not been too exciting thus far, earning two points from his first two games. A draw at home to Watford is not as bad as it seems but Hiddink will be disappointed with his team’s defending. Oscar missed a late penalty that could have sealed the win for Chelsea but it wasn’t to be and they failed to win yet another game at home. The trip to Old Trafford was just as poor but this time in the attacking sense. With Diego Costa out injured, Eden Hazard led the line in a false-nine role that offered little to the imagination in the final third. United were the better side and thankfully for Chelsea, they are in just as bad form as each other right now and were unable to punish the Blues. They will be looking for revenge on Sunday, though, as they look to make a charge towards the top half of the table in the new year.
Palace’s squad is looking a little thin on the ground so I would expect to see one or two new faces join the ranks in the January window. Yohan Cabaye is suspended until the 12th of January whilst Yannick Bolasie, Connor Wickham, Dwight Gayle, Bakary Sako and Damien Delaney are all set to miss the visit of the champions. In addition, Patrick Bamford decided to cut his loan spell short after the lack of first team opportunities and he returns to parent club Chelsea.
Chelsea are pretty much at full strength with only Gary Cahill, Loic Remy and Cesc Fabregas with small doubts over their fitness for the game. Diego Costa returns from suspension to provide some much needed fire power, in addition to Bamford’s return to the club.
The two sides have met a total of 47 times over more than a 100 year period, their first meeting in 1906 ended in a 7-1 victory for Crystal Palace as the teams met in the FA cup. That was the first of only ten wins in all competitions against Chelsea, whilst the visitors have taken the spoils on twenty two occasions over their history.
Since Crystal Palace’s return to the Premier League in 2013, there has been no margin of victory greater than one goal. Three games ending 2-1, the other two only 1-0. Surprisingly enough, the first meeting between the two has been 2-1 whilst their second encounter has ended 1-0. Seeing as Palace’s victory was by a 2-1 margin earlier this season, I would not be surprised to see a 1-0 scoreline either way this time.
Wilfried Zaha – With a number of the other attacking threats out of the picture, a lot of the emphasis will be placed on the young English winger. He has shown a lot of promise so far this season but he will need to be at his very best in order to help his team through this tough encounter.
Nemanja Matic – I expect Palace to play a counter attacking style, which means that Matic will need to be very disciplined in the middle of the park. The full backs love to bomb forward for Chelsea and if they are to dominate the possession, Matic will need to be very focused on his defensive work. Zaha has the pace to exploit the back four and will do so if he is given the opportunity. It is up to Matic to make sure that he doesn’t get too much time on the ball in good areas.
Historically, as I mentioned previously, the second meeting has ended 1-0. I expect it to be the same scoreline this time as well, I do not see either team scoring more than once and both defences come in off the back of a clean sheet so will be confident they can repeat the feat.
I predict a 1-0 win for Chelsea.