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Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea, Premier League: Keys to the game

Chelsea FC v Qarabag FK - UEFA Champions League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Cesc and Bakayoko midfield pairing

Chelsea should have plenty of time on the ball against Crystal Palace, and thus both Cesc Fàbregas and Tiemoué Bakayoko should have a plethora of chances to influence the attack, through creative passing in the case of the former and with driving runs through the middle in the case of the latter.

However, the big question is how they will fare without N’Golo Kanté to fill in the gaps. Can Bakayoko adjust to playing just alongside Fàbregas, stay disciplined and not lose concentration, especially in the latter stages of the game? With Kanté set to miss the rest of the month, it will be imperative to find someone among the squad — including Danny Drinkwater, if and when he does finally return to full fitness — to try to make up for most of his contributions.

Chelsea v Nottingham Forest - Carabao Cup Third Round Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Relying on Michy Batshuayi?

There is a chance that the Hazard-Pedro-Willian combination is deployed in this game, but in all likelihood Michy Batshuayi will get the start in place of the injured Álvaro Morata. After more than a year, Batshuayi is still coming to terms with Conte’s system and being able to operate consistently and effectively in it. We’ve seen glimpses of him being able to do so, but we’ve also seen shocking relapses into previous bad habits.

Playing against Palace’s league-worst (by far!) defense should give Batshuayi a great chance to show all that he’s learned, and the rest of the Chelsea attack and midfield to adjust to playing with him instead of Morata.

I am especially interested in seeing Hazard and Batshuayi link up, which is not something they’ve been able to do a lot outside of Belgium national team games.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Don’t overthink it

Chelsea might be missing two of the best players on the team, including the leading goalscorer and the reigning Premier League Player of the Year, but at the end of the day, it’s “just” Crystal Palace. If Chelsea can’t win at Palace...

While worries about this being a “trap game” abound, and no game is ever easy in the Premier League as the cliché goes, Palace are still far and away the worst team in the league. Chelsea should not underestimate them of course, but at the same time, there’s nothing to fear.

Seven games played, seven losses. Zero goals scored; 17 conceded (4 more than any other team). Their best hope of winning appears to be a reversion to the mean — no team can be this bad, right, Derby County? — or perhaps some moment of magic from Wilfried Zaha.

(Disclaimer: of course, anything can happen. Every once in a while, Leicester City win the league and Chelsea come back from 2-0 down with 10-men at the Nou Camp.)

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