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Predicted Chelsea lineup against Crystal Palace: To Cesc or not to Cesc, that is the question

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

A couple early trends that are emerging in this second Guus Hiddink interim era are the manager's preference for Gary Cahill and his preference for John Obi Mikel.  Steady soldiers.  Nothing too fancy, nothing too flashy.  For better or worse, known quantities.

It should be said that with just two games to base this conclusion on, the sample is highly limited.  This could all be very wrong, and Hiddink might be penciling in Kurt Zouma and Cesc Fàbregas just as readily into the lineup as his predecessor was doing.  But especially for the latter, and especially given Hiddink's recent comments about a more surgical deployment for Cesc, I don't think that's the case.

But could Palace represent just such an opportunity for a surgical strike?  On paper, the hosts are very strong, sitting fifth with the second best defense in the league but despite their Premier League third-best form, only with an offense just as anemic as Chelsea's.  Add to that a few key midfield absentees including Yohan Cabaye and Chelsea's chances of controlling the play suddenly become pretty good.  On Monday, facing a far more complete midfield thanks to Morgan Schneiderlin, Hiddink started with Mikel to far less obvious effect than a couple days prior, when the shut-down man was a key half-time change.  We could very well see Fàbregas start instead as Chelsea try to grab the initiative rather than sit back and hope for the best.

Other than Cesc, and barring any last minute injuries or crazy notions regarding youth, the lineup more or less picks itself.  A minor dilemma may exist in picking 3 of the available 4 for the attacking band, but I'm not sure any given choice is better than any other.  My preference is as follows.

Courtois | Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanović | Matić, Fàbregas | Hazard, Willian, Pedro | Costa

The community's choice has a slightly more adventurous outlook to it.

Courtois | Baba, Terry, Zouma, Azpilicueta | Matić, Loftus-Cheek | Hazard, Oscar, Willian | Costa

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