Chelsea are in the final stretch of what has been a one horse race in this season’s quest for the Premier League title. With the gap over Tottenham being double figures while only a single figure number of games left to play it is going to take an incredible collapse for the trophy not to return to Stamford Bridge after it’s brief hiatus at The King Power Stadium. Today they play host to Crystal Palace side who are finding form at just the right time and will look to continue this when they make the short trip to West London.
Before the international break Chelsea travelled to Stoke and thanks to Gary Cahill’s late winner they came away with all three points. They may not have been at their best but as the cliché goes it was certainly the sign of champions that they could still dig in and find a performance which for many has rubber stamped the fact that they will be champions come May, it’s no longer a case of if but when Antonio Conte’s men lift the trophy.
But is there the risk that they could become complacent and perhaps be caught cold after the international break, well Crystal Palace will certainly hope so and will look to take full advantage of a Chelsea side that are not necessarily going to be at full strength. Conte will be sweating on the fitness of a trio of starts with Diego Costa and Belgian pair Eden Hazard and Thibault Courtois all doubts going into the game, while Victor Moses is also certain to miss out.
This could be a test of Chelsea’s squad depth should any or all of the above be absent through injury, Conte has not necessarily been one for chopping and changing this season but it looks as if his hand may well be forced going into this game. Both Hazard and Costa could be a big blow and it would mean a rejig in the attack line with Pedro more than likely charged with spearheading the attack line, could this be the ideal opportunity for Michy Batshuyai to start. In all fairness it probably is not so he will have to make do with once again playing a small supporting role.
Sam Allardyce’s Palace side are in the relative comfort of 16th place and more importantly four points clear of the drop zone. That is thanks to three straight wins and four wins from their last six matches. Although there is work to be done it seems as if this seasons Allardyce great escape is finally in full swing. Before the break they hosted Watford and were grateful that Troy Deeney’s striking instincts kicked in at the wrong end. It may not have been pretty but at that end of the table you take whatever points you can and in any which way possible.
A staple of Allardyce run sides is defensive stability and that is now looking apparent now that Mamadou Sahko has come into the side. The on loan defender from Liverpool is playing a huge part in Palace’s turn around. It’s three clean sheets in a row for Palace and Jurgen Klopp’s cast off is very much The Eagles treasure right now. Since coming in for Damien Delaney the side has been transformed, Sahko may well be playing this well just to put him in the shop window for a summer move elsewhere but if it keeps Palace up then their fans will be eternally grateful.
Can they make it four clean sheets in a row this afternoon though? That is obviously going to be a big ask even with Chelsea’s possible list of absentees. Even if Chelsea do miss their star players then the supporting cast are more than capable of doing the job and although Palace will go into this game in form and full of confidence I can’t see anything other then the norm and that being a Chelsea win.