Crystal Palace, a side for whom the term “luckless” may have been invented, will come to Stamford Bridge knowing that they’ll leave empty-handed if they put in anything less than 100% here. In truth, even if they do deliver that level of effort, they’ll probably still lose, but you never know.
Certainly, Chelsea haven’t been perfect this season, and points have been wastefully dropped here and there, but the 2017 champions remain unbeaten in the league with only Manchester United, Liverpool and West Ham having held them to draws. The Eagles, meanwhile, come here off the back of a battling 2-2 draw with Arsenal. A showing with that kind of tenacity is exactly what they need at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea vs Crystal Palace Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Crystal Palace
Full credit must go to Palace – after recent defeats against Everton, Bournemouth and Wolves, they could have folded as they entered the last ten minutes against Arsenal trailing by a goal. However, they kept at it, equalised through a penalty with seven minutes left, and could certainly have won the game in the time remaining with a smidge more luck. The stage is set for another heroic performance, then – but as committed and honest a side as Palace are, they’re up against a very strong Chelsea team who will probably beat them handily.
Our recommended tip: Both Teams Score
Anyone who watched Napoli last season will recognise the quality Maurizio Sarri has brought to his new employers on the King’s Road. Chelsea are an open side, with Jorginho’s promptings from the regista position bringing attacking verve that has been missing for too long. However, this looser approach is perhaps taken too literally at times by the Blues defence, and with William Hill offering Evens (2.00) on both sides scoring, we’d expect further mix-ups here – can Palace take advantage?
So handily did Palace avoid relegation last season that you could easily forget they lost their first seven games of the campaign. If you can imagine something worse than Newcastle United, they were it. However, in their eighth game, they won an unlikely victory at the expense of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side. Sent on their way by an own goal from Azpilicueta, the Eagles eventually won 2-1 thanks to a winner just before half time, scored by Wilfried Zaha.
The return fixture at Stamford Bridge ended 2-1 to Chelsea – but by that stage Palace were pretty much safe from relegation and the Blues had torched their chances of Champions League participation, so the game had a slightly anti-climactic feel to it.
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Players to watch: Ross Barkley & Max Meyer
Barkley has had quite the career path, coming through as a youngster at Everton to the kind of fanfare that was last witnessed when Wayne Rooney first hit the scene. Serious injury and a loss of form (combined with a level of media coverage that was harsh at best and downright racist at worst) saw him disappear almost entirely, so when Chelsea paid £15million for him last January, it looked like an almighty punt. However, Sarri has brought the best out of the elegant midfielder, and it’s thrilling to see.
Meyer was linked with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United when it was announced that he would leave Schalke under freedom of contract this past summer. Somehow, he has ended up in Croydon. Even more improbably, he hasn’t been a regular starter for a struggling Eagles side. However, he appeared from the bench to great effect last weekend, and his clever passing makes him an obvious choice to give Palace that added spark they’ve been missing. If Hodgson wants a point or more here, Meyer should start.