Saturday, March 10 – 5:30pm local time – Stamford Bridge, London
Chelsea will have a chance at retribution when they welcome Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge in a London derby that looks every inch a survival struggle for both sides.
The Blues were long ago deposed as champions and now lie a ludicrous 25 points adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City, with the best they could accomplish being a top-four finish.
Even so, the best worst-case scenario still remains a malaise for Chelsea, who stand little chance of clawing themselves back into a Champions League place when you consider the quality of the opponents they are up against.
Antonio Conte’s charges will be hoping to dish out some punishment of their own after copping plenty over the past few weeks.
The Blues head into the derby low on confidence having been put to the sword in their last two matches by the Manchester sides.
They lost 2-1 at Old Trafford and went down by a lone goal at the Etihad the following week.
The losses have come at significant cost, as Tottenham Hotspur’s wins over Palace and Huddersfield during the same period have given them five points of breathing space in the battle for fourth place.
Pressure increasingly mounting on Conte, who is at pains to explain why a team that won the league by daylight last season is struggling to finish in the top four.
Crystal Palace may at face value provide the perfect match for Chelsea to gain relevance in the race for Champions League qualification, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Eagles are third from bottom with 27 points, but hell hath no further like a team fighting against the drop.
Roy Hodgson’s side were on course to their first victory in six games having gone two up against Manchester United, but the packed Selhurst Park crowd had to endure another evening of angst after the Red Devils shifted through the gears to exert complete control and claim a 3-2 win.
It is this kind of significant incursion that Conte will be wary of when the two sides face off on Saturday, more so given the defensive frailties exhibited by his own side.
The Italian will be without David Luiz, who is still ruled out with an ankle injury, while Tiemoue Bakayoko continues to recuperate from a mysterious knock suffered during training.
Ross Barkley is fit for a return this weekend having been sidelined for a month with a hamstring injury sustained in training, and N’Golo Kante looks poised to slot back into the line-up after missing the defeat to Manchester City having fainted during training in the week leading up to the match.
The visitors on the other hand have an ever-lengthening injury list, so much that it could form a separate starting 11 altogether.
Julian Speroni, Connor Wickham and Jason Puncheon all have knee injuries, while Yohan Cabaye is out with a thigh strain.
The injured Ruben Loftus-Cheek is ineligible to play against his parent club, whereas Diafra Sakho, Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann and Joel Ward won’t make the trip across the City due to various injuries.
Hodgson will, however, be chuffed by Wilfried Zaha’s remarkable recovery from a knee injury.
The former Manchester United forward has been training with his teammates this week, two months earlier than scheduled, and is even in contention of making it to the bench at the Bridge.
Chelsea simply cannot afford another slip up and will be desperate for nothing short of three points.
It is perhaps this desire to venture forward that may leave the Blues vulnerable at the back against a side that has had a fine run against them in the past.
In the full knowledge that Barcelona are stalling ahead of them in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, and with Kante back in the mix, Chelsea should get the job done against Palace.
Prediction: Chelsea to win – $1.30 at William Hill
Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace recent results
Palace 2-1 Chelsea (October 14, 2017)
Cesar Azpilicueta 11’ (OG) Wilfried Zaha 45’ Tiemoue Bakayoko 18’
Chelsea 1-2 Palace (April 1, 2017)
Cesc Fabregas 5’ Wilfried Zaha 9’ Christian Benteke 11’
Palace 0-1 Chelsea (December 17, 2016)
Diego Costa 43’
Palace 0-3 Chelsea (January 3, 2016)
Oscar 29’ Willian 60’ Diego Costa 66’
Chelsea 1-2 Palace (August 29, 2015)
Radamel Falcao 79’ Bakary Sako 65’ Joel Ward 81’