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 tough at Stamford Bridge this season since 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 defence in convincing fashion. Losing the very consistency that won them the league in Conte’s debut season, this year, 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 – resulting in a five-point deficit between themselves and Spurs. Nothing but a win would suffice on Saturday if they were 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 – a battle for survival. Palace is currently losing that battle as they find themselves in the drop zone – not 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 and 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 after going 2-0 up against Mourinho’s Manchester United on Monday.
Crystal Palace’s injury nightmare continues but Roy Hodgson could welcome back Yohan Cabaye (groin) and Joel Ward (muscle). Timothy Fosu-Mensah is back in contention are being ineligible to face Manchester United. Wilfried Zaha (knee) is still a week away at least, while Mamadou Sakho (calf), Jason Puncheon and Connor Wickham (both knee) are 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.
N’Golo Kante – Chelsea
Having won the Premier League in two of the last three seasons, it is easy to understand why Kante brings to the table one of the vital traits to boost chances of success in England: relentless work ethic.
The French midfielder is a bundle of energy and his presence in the middle of the park in the weekend would ensure the more creative forwards at Chelsea can enjoy more freedom in possession than they are used to, without Kante on the pitch, as babysitter. With the home advantage being in London derbies like these, it is important that Chelsea start on a front foot and Kante will be crucial to the home side 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 int he final third.
Chelsea’s back three is not the impenetrable brick wall as it was for large parts in their title-winning season last year, meaning Townsend should be highly 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.
Chelsea 2-1 Crystal Palace