Eye On The Opposition: Crystal Palace vs Chelsea (14/10/2017)

Written by Jack Pierce

Oh, the football’s back. Yip-dee-bloody-do!

After the two thrashings in Manchester before the international break, it can’t get much worse, can it?

The champions? The sodding champions?

Where is that bastard fixture computer? If a computer screen ever deserved a large mallet through it, it’s that bloody thing!

I know we’ve got to play everyone twice but...

Anyway, back to Selhurst we head and in Chelsea, we welcome the side perhaps most likely to challenge the Manchester monopoly on the league title chase this season. There have been question marks over transfer dealings, the manager's happiness and squad depth but some performances offered by Chelsea so far this season, notably wins away at Spurs and Atletico Madrid, indicate the class that led to them winning the title last season is still there. However, there will have been disappointment in losing at home to Manchester City last time out before the international break. Antonio Conte pointed to the untimely exit of Alvaro Morata being a factor although it's hard to look beyond just how excellent City were that day.
Conte's alleged dissatisfaction with the summer's transfer business may have grounds but it's not as though the club didn't invest in areas where it was clear to EVERYONE that it was needed. He really has nothing to moan about in comparison to others. Why Conte may have cause for grievance is that the replenishing of the squad might not have gone far enough in view of he and his squad challenging on multiple fronts. There was no Champions League involvement last season and while it wasn't the determining factor is the title success, it's difficult to argue it would've not had been an influence.

The defeat at home to City followed what was one of the best performances by an English side in Europe within the last five years. Winning at Atletico's wonderful new stadium was a statement of intent by this Chelsea side; the winning goal orchestrated wonderfully as they were fully aware that they had one move to execute a winning goal and with each precision pass edging closer to the goal, Michy Batshuayi prodded home to leave their hosts stunned and onlookers mightily impressed. Fast forward three days and City looked sharper and brighter all over the pitch; quicker on the ball and snappier defensively. Conte, perhaps inevitably, referred to their European excursions draining his players and suggested that the Premier League should assist English clubs by not scheduling such high paced, title defining fixtures after continental competition and offering up supposed cannon fodder.

Pull the other one, Antonio – not happening!

There’s significant talk that Conte will not be the Chelsea boss come the start of next season and some suspect that his tenure may even end at some point during this season. Chelsea, as a club, seem to have fairly solid model now and should Conte leave his post in the not so distant future, his successor will slot in, just as he did. The Chelsea cheque book is certainly not gathering cobwebs but it’s not just the money of Roman Abramovich that is paying for them anymore. Their use of the loan market has been discussed and criticised but financially it works for them. If we stay up and Conte (or whoever else is in charge) doesn’t fancy Ruben Loftus-Cheek, I’m sure they’ll be a clamour for Palace to sign the midfielder permanently. In desperately bleak times, he’s been a shining light; perhaps a little too absent with injuries but when he has made it on to the pitch, the Chelsea-owned player has been superb showing real class. Of course, he won’t be available this weekend due to Premier League regulations.
Unlikely to be the only Palace fan who, along with the Manchester trips, had written this one off, I’m now starting to think we might have a chance given that a host of Chelsea players will only have arrived back at the club in the day or two before Saturday’s so might be tired. I guess I’m using Conte’s own logic there without taking reality into account.

Defeat is likely; there’s little to argue against that but how about a Palace goal?

Just one.


Key men

David Luiz

There have been fewer better stories of redemption than that of David Luiz's. Criticised throughout his first spell at Chelsea, ridiculed when he became the most expensive defender in the world, highlighted as one of the worst culprits when Germany knocked Brazil for seven and then accused of only being Chelsea's back up choice when he re-signed last year. Fair to say that since he has returned, his reputation has been transformed. His role in last season's title success was referred to throughout the campaign and he is now one of the, if not the, best central defenders in the league.

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Tiemoue Bakayoko

The common perception seems to be that Chelsea were mad to let Nemanja Matic leave, especially when you consider who they sold him to. It's a fair judgement given how well Manchester United, Matic's new employers, have started the season. However, the form of Bakayoko throughout last season at Monaco and his displays in Chelsea blue this season suggest Chelsea hierarchy see the two players having a similar role and have effectively signed the Frenchman for the same price as they got for the Serbian midfielder despite Bakayoko being six years younger. Could work out very well for The Blues.

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Eden Hazard

Having missed the start of the season through injury, Hazard has returned to action with both his club and country in recent weeks. As with most returning from injury, it’s taken a little bit of time for him to look his potent threat and usual self but with the minutes in his legs, he’s likely to be Chelsea’s main protagonist on Saturday. Superb last season and a huge part of why Chelsea won the title, the Belgian’s fleet footedness and potency when presented with a goal scoring opportunity make him one of the best players in the division. He’s been at Chelsea for five seasons now and with each passing campaign, his influence grows. With the two Manchester sides looking the real deal this season, Hazard will have to replicate, or even better, last season’s form if his side are to reclaim the title they won at a canter last season.

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