Hope For The Eagles: Chelsea Are There For The Taking

Manchester City 5-0 Crystal Palace. Manchester United 4-0 Crystal Palace. A hat-trick of thrashings is surely on the cards when Premier League champions, Chelsea, arrive at Selhurst Park on Saturday afternoon, isn’t it? Well don’t throw in the towel just yet Eagles fans; there’s hope.

So far it has been a season to forget for Palace, who will be looking to avoid an extension on their record of being the first team in 129 years of the football league to lose their first seven games without scoring.

Since Roy Hodgson surprise take over from Frank de Boer, four league games into the season, the Eagles haven’t had the easiest of opponents. They faced Southampton at Selhurst Park, who were undefeated away from home going into the fixture, before consecutive away batterings in Manchester.

There have been little signs of improvement since the former England manager took over, but a two-week international break might just be the break Hodgson has been waiting for. Whilst Chelsea’s superstars have been jetting off to the luxurious destinations of Bulgaria and Albania attempting to secure World Cup qualification, you can be sure Palace have been on the training field preparing.

Wayne Hennessey, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jairo Riedewald and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were the only four Palace players who went away on international duty. Hodgson has had two whole weeks with nearly an entire squad to conjure up a fullproof plan that will stop Chelsea from running riot over his side.

On the other hand, Chelsea have had six first-team player, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Marcos Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Kennedy and Willy Caballero, in training during the international break. It’s not an unfamiliar situation for Chelsea to have two days to prepare for their trip to South London, but it does play into Hodgson’s favour.

To Palace’s delight the Blues will be heading into the game without a full strength squad. Before the international break Alvaro Morata went off injured during Chelsea’s fixture with Manchester City with reports suggesting the Spaniard may be out for two months.

Michy Batshuayi is likely to be called up to the starting line-up following his impressive spell on international duty, with the Belgian grabbing a goal on his first competitive international start to help defeat Bosnia Herzegovina.

However, Antonio Conte has previously been reluctant to put the striker in his starting line-up and often prefers him to make an impact from the bench. In the games Batshuayi has started he struggles to find the same form he gains as a late substitute. This time Conte may have no choice but to start Chelsea’s Madrid hero due to their inactivity in the summer transfer window to secure a third striker.

The champions’ failure in the summer doesn’t stop at their strike-force, in midfield Conte will be forced to partner Bakayoko with Fabregas due to the injury N’Golo Kante picked up on international duty with France – Palace fans must be wishing for more of these international breaks!

In recent weeks, the Chelsea boss has been using the 3-5-2 formation to break down the oppositions midfield, but with only two fit midfielders this won’t be an option. Drinkwater was bought to bolster midfield options but the former Leicester man has been suffering with a calf injury, preventing him from making his debut. Bakayoko and Fabregas have yet to play in a two-man midfield together which Hodgson would be silly not to try and exploit in the early stages of the match whilst the two settle in.

To cap off Chelsea’s absentees, David Luiz won’t be taking part following his three-match suspension. The Blues should have enough firepower at the back to contain a side who have yet to score in the league this season, but Chelsea do always look stronger in defence the with the Brazilian.

Three of the last four fixtures between these sides at Selhurst Park have been separated by just a goal and Palace won’t get a better opportunity to nick this game by a goal. With Chelsea’s shortages it must seem like Hodgson’s birthday and Christmas have been rolled into one.