Signs of Life
Palace’s dreadful record in 2016 has been well-documented. And until a couple of weeks ago a lot of people were tipping them for the drop. But then came an encouraging 3-0 win against a strong Southampton team.
And a draw against Hull the following week represents progress compared to the string of defeats that came before.
One man who has been impressing throughout is Wilfried Zaha, looking much like the livewire that caught everyone’s attention four years ago.
Striker Problem Solved
Even during what was supposed to be a terrible spell at Liverpool, Christian Benteke’s scoring record remained respectable. The Belgian striker’s reputation took an unfair kicking last season, but it wasn’t his fault that Liverpool had no plan for him.
This year in a struggling team he already has 8 goals in 13 starts. And it bears repeating that before his move to Merseyside he was in the Belgium team ahead of Lukaku.
If there’s something to notice about Palace’s little upturn over the last couple of weeks, it’s that one of their marquee players, Yohan Cabaye was out through suspension for the Southampton match.
The French midfielder then started on the bench for the Hull game. Pardew may now feel safer with two less creative players like McArthur and Ledley screening his defence. Ahead of them, Jason Puncheon can supplement some of Cabaye’s imagination, but also adds some dynamism to the mix.
A Nightmare to Predict
You can’t feel comfortable backing Palace on their current form. When their exciting attacking riches are shining you know they’re capable of goals. They’ve netted 27 this season, which is three more than fifth-placed Spurs have managed.
But you can bet that Chelsea will be lickking their lips at the sight of that Palace defence. James Tomkins, who was one of the stars of the Southampton win, should be back from injury to patch them up.
But it won’t make much difference this weekend.
Every week you see a different side to this scary Chelsea team. Last weekend against West Brom the main factor was persistence.
Teams are slowly coming up with plans to counter Conte’s 3-4-3. Manchester City tried to match up with the same formation and failed. West Brom under Pulis showed up to defend deep, and were slowly worn down until Diego Costa landed the killer blow.
It’s been hard to spot a flaw in this Blues team since they embarked on their crazy succession of wins. Chelsea now are as close as the Premier League has come to a perfect team in recent seasons: Every player knows their job and every player is just the right man for his position.
Even David Luiz has cut out the mistakes this season. Mourinho identified him as a weak link a couple of years back, but the Brazilian now thrives in a three-man defence.
Clearly it’s very early for title talk, but at present it’s hard to work out where Chelsea are going to stumble. This team is such a well-oiled machine that injuries appear to be the only thing that could derail them.
But even on that front Chelsea are in a good position. Their workload has been far lower than the sides playing in Europe chasing them at the top of the league.
The transformation of Diego Costa this season has been one of the big stories of the campaign. He still has that bite and plays close to the edge, but has channelled that aggression to become a muscular and aggressive focal point up front.
Like the best centre forwards he’s as happy dropping deep and laying it off as he is spinning and making off-the-ball runs in behind. And then you add that strength, tenacity and eye for the spectacular and you’ve got something deadly on your hands.
The only disappointment is last season, but the same regret applies to Hazard, Matić, Azpilicueta, and almost everyone except Willian.
Crystal Palace vs Chelsea Prediction
You won’t go broke backing Palace to score. And they’ve got the attacking potential to breach even a defence of Chelsea’s quality.
But at the other end it could be a massacre. If Hull can score three and Swansea can score five against Palace there’s no telling what havoc Chelsea could wreak. We’re tipping a 1-3 win for the Blues, just to be conservative.
Ever felt like giving matched betting a try? Why not take a peek at ourstep-by-step guide.