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Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace: Preview

In most seasons, even, arguably, this one, the visit of lowly Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge would be three of the safest points Chelsea could ask for. Recent history, on the other hand, suggests that's probably not the case.

Richard Heathcote

If Manchester City can beat Arsenal in their clash this weekend and Chelsea get the points at home to Crystal Palace, it means the Blues will head to the Emirates nine days later with a chance to overhaul the Gunners at the top of table. Before that can happen, though Chelsea have to fulfil their end of the bargain. (City do as well, but that's out of our control.)

On paper, this is an utter mismatch. Chelsea, with their expensively-obtained squad, at home to the Premier League's surprise-new-boys, who give the impression of being a rather-cobbled-together squad lacking true stars. (And Marouane Chamakh.) That paper match, like all others of its kind, is a lie. The Premier League isn't on a par with La Liga, where such mismatches do tend to be unexciting, nearly-guaranteed wins for the bigger club.

No, the Premier League isn't like that. Everybody can and does beat everybody else. For clubs, like Chelsea, who are a little bit (okay, very) shaky, this is the sort of game which can turn into a nightmare very quickly. Following unconvincing results against Sunderland, Stoke, and Steaua Bucharest in the past two weeks, Crystal Palace has a seemingly-equal chance of being a platform from which Chelsea can build, or yet another banana skin to be trod on.

POP QUIZ: Which of these two teams has three wins, a draw, and a loss in its previous five Premier League matches?

That's correct, Sir or Madam. It is both! Yes, early-season strugglers Crystal Palace have managed to engineer a run of ten points of fifteen available. This mini-resurgence is due, in no small part, to new boss Tony Pulis, who has led the Eagles to two wins in his three matches in charge. Fortunately for the Blues, both of those wins have been at Selhurst Park.

Still, though, I'm sure very few of us would be totally surprised to see them get Pulis his first away win tomorrow, such is Chelsea's recent form. Of late, Chelsea seem to have two distinct modes of operation. The first is to give away soft goals on the counter and at set-pieces while scoring freely up front, while the other is to remain steady at the back and feckless up front.

Unlike most of their rival title challengers, Chelsea are yet to lay down a hammering as a statement of intent this season. Crystal Palace always look good value to be just that sort of cannon-fodder, but I wouldn't count on it. I suspect we'll see the Eagles adopting the familiar anti-Chelsea tactic of sitting deep and absorbing pressure. It's not all doom and gloom for me, though. I suspect the Blues will eventually be able to crack the Palace defence and secure the win.

Opponent: Crystal Palace, currently 19th on 13 points. (Goal Difference is -12.)

Venue/Location: Stamford Bridge, London, England

Date/Time: Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 15:00 GMT (10:00 am EST, 7:00 am PST, 20:30 IST)

Forecast: The Weather Channel is predicting very reasonable temperatures with a low chance of precipitation and plenty of wind for the Fulham area, which includes Stamford Bridge, tomorrow.

Chelsea FC Squad News: Joining Marco van Ginkel out of the squad this week are Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole, who have been ruled out of this fixture with a minor thigh injury and to get some rest, respectively. Ryan Bertrand has also been dealing with a knee injury of late, and will continue to be out for at least another week. Cesar Azpilicueta will, therefore, be playing in his new left back spot, with John Terry, David Luiz, and Branislav Ivanovic retaining their places from mid-week.

Crystal Palace Squad News: Dean Moxey will be a late decision following his hamstring injury against Cardiff. The Eagles will be without all of Jerome Thomas, Jack Hunt, Adlene Guedioura, and Glenn Murray, who miss out with groin, ankle, rib, and knee injuries, respectively.

Television/Streaming: In the US, the game can be seen on NBC Sports Network, and NBC's Live Extra service. In the UK, Chelsea fans will again have to rely on the live audio stream from Chelsea TV. Indian fans will be able to watch on Star Sports 2 HD and Star Sports 4, while everyone else can check here for their listings.

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