Chelsea are guaranteed to be top of the table at Christmas regardless of Saturday’s result, but a win against Crystal Palace would equal the club record of eleven in a row, set over two seasons in 2009. Despite Palace’s lowly 16th position in the table, this will not be an easy task.
"I have to see if I decide to put Eden [Hazard, who's returning from injury] in the starting eleven — not only him, but also for the other players. I have tonight to decide."
"It’s not easy to play three games in six days. We played against Sunderland on Wednesday and got back at 4am. We have had only one day to prepare for the game and play again at 12.30. For this reason, it’s important to see every single detail and then to take the best decision for tomorrow."
Cesc Fàbregas started in midfield on Wednesday while Willian replaced the injured Hazard. More changes are expected on Saturday due to the hectic schedule, though perhaps not too many beyond just those two positions.
Situations like Eden's in midweek are one of the reasons why having good depth is useful, even if those players don't see the pitch as often as they’d want to (thanks in part to Chelsea’s reduced, Europe-free schedule this season). Conte once again emphasised the importance of our squad members, and their impact whenever they take the pitch for one of his current starters.
"Before with Eden we played a lot of games and we played very well, and then it can happen that a player has an injury. I hope when we have this type of situation the substitute plays very well."
"I need all my players in every game and I repeat it’s important to have the possibility to choose, above all when we are in an emergency. Until now, we were lucky we haven’t had a lot of injuries."
Speaking of depth, one of the major talking points throughout the week has been Oscar's big-money transfer to Chinese club Shanghai SIPG, which would not only net Chelsea a massive windfall of cash, it would make Oscar one of the three highest paid players in the world.
While Conte neither confirmed nor denied any of this, it seems fairly certain that Oscar will eventually leave in January.
On the subject of Oscar, Conte says we have to wait to see what happens regarding his future. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 16, 2016
Conte says he does not want to talk about potential replacements for Oscar if he does go, as it is disrespectful to other clubs. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 16, 2016
Instead, Conte highlighted the “danger” of the influx of Chinese money into football — i.e. the Premier League might no longer be the richest league in the world. Fortunately, it’s still the “best”, whatever the definition of “best” may be.
Conte says the money in Chinese football is a danger for all the other clubs in the world, not just Chelsea. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 16, 2016
But Conte says the Premier League is still the best league in the world so he is not worried about the market. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 16, 2016
In more immediate matters, as we continue our march towards a potential first place finish in the Premier League, we can often look back at previous seasons for any good or bad signs that could forecast our future in the competition. One tidbit that’s come up recently is the Christmas league table, which has successfully "predicted" the league champions in six of past seven seasons — the only exception being 2013-14, when we crushed Liverpool's title hopes at Anfield — as well as in each of Chelsea’s previous four Premier League title-winning seasons.
As one might expect, Conte doesn't care about these stats, especially in a season when Chelsea are crushing the early expectations. Conte’s focus instead is on strengthening our position, three points at a time.
"I don’t like stats. I prefer not to read them because you find a story. You have to write the new story. History doesn’t matter, above all this season."
"We started without great ambition from the people. This season is very difficult for us, but until now we are doing very well and we are a great surprise for many people. Now it’s important to continue to be this great surprise."
"We have great motivation to take three points, this is the most important thing for us. Then if we continue to win it’s fantastic. We will try for sure to win the game."
Saturday’s opponents, Crystal Palace, haven't enjoyed the best of seasons so far, sitting in 16th place with only 15 points earned in 16 matches. But even though Chelsea are 25 points ahead of Palace, Conte knows the danger they can present to our ambitions.
"We all know tomorrow will be another derby, it will be very tough against a good team, that now is not in a good position in the table, but I think the squad is very good."
"There is no team in the world who is unbeatable. Now for us it’s very difficult, because when you play against another team they have nothing to lose. And for this reason they play with great intensity and aggression to try to beat a team who has 10 wins in a row."
"In this league every game is always open. Anything can happen. You must go with great concentration and focus because you can lose against any team."
"When you arrive with 10 wins at the minimum there is great respect for you. But I repeat this situation is a good situation for the opponent because they have nothing to lose. It’s more difficult for us to continue this way than for our opponent."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
One of the few good memories from last season was Chelsea's 3-0 thrashing of Palace at Selhurst Park in January. Here's hoping we can bring home another victory in similar fashion this weekend.