Saturday 17th December 12.30 GMT
Crystal Palace will be kicking themselves that they didn’t hold out against Manchester United on Wednesday night. A brave point was theirs for the taking until an incisive move between Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic led to Utd’s winning goal in the 88th minute. Up until that point, even though the Manchester side were the dominant team, the performance of Palace would have been worth the draw so they can take some solace from their efforts on the night. Lord knows they need somewhere to hang their hopes as all signs point to Chelsea adding another scalp to their expanding trophy rack of kills.
There’s the easy way and there’s the hard way
We’re about to lay a crazy theory on you so bear with us: Palace’s hopes of getting any points from this match might benefit greatly by playing their strongest team. Revolutionary talk for sure but if Alan Pardew decides to start the 10-years-past-his-best Mathieu Flamini in the centre of the park again instead of Joe Ledley, he’ll probably deserve most of the opprobrium that will be thrown his way. Anything other than his best team will see them sunk.
Close to perfect
Mind you, we’re only talking in small fractions here as Chelsea are arguably the best team in Europe at the moment. Real Madrid and Monaco are impressing in a big way but neither of them are operating as efficiently in the totality of their play as the London club. No Chelsea player is being carried and all seem to be playing close to their best on a consistent basis.
This is how you do it
Excellent players though they are, none of this would be possible without Antonio Conte. To a degree, the Italian coach is showing up his professional colleagues and making a nonsense of the theory that a manager needs a good wedge of time before his charges can adequately absorb his new methods. Since Chelsea re-organised themselves into their current 3-4-2-1, they haven’t dropped a point from the 30 available and have shipped just two goals. That Conte is new to the league and inherited a worryingly dysfunctional and fractured squad is all the more remarkable still.
Challenges met and bested
It’s no exaggeration to say that the toughest team that Chelsea have faced of late was the in-form West Bromwich Albion. One vital lapse of concentration aside, the Baggies were excellent defensively, frustrating Chelsea and confining them to hopeful shots on goal from distance whilst retaining the threat to counter at pace and make use of set-pieces when the opportunities arose.
A sieve-like defence
As evidenced by their ‘goals for’ column (only the top four have scored more), Palace, too, contain pace and attacking threat but, as evidenced by their ‘goals against’ column (only two teams have conceded more), they are a mess at the back. They have managed just a single clean sheet in the league all season and are highly unlikely to add to that total here.
If one subscribes to the notion of a multiverse or even the Many Worlds theory, then there must be places dotted outside of our knowable reality wherein Crystal Palace put on anywhere from the greatest display of football ever seen to scoring five goals in the last three minutes to secure a last minute win. Sadly for Palace, precisely none of those events are likely to happen in this universe any time soon. The best price for a Chelsea win is predictably short at a price of 8/13 from BetVictor.