Chelsea will look to stretch their unbeaten run to 16 when hosting cross-town rivals Crystal Palace later today. Palace have struggled a fair bit this season — their last win was in September — but Maurizio Sarri will nevertheless have to exercise caution; Palace have recorded some very good results against Chelsea in the last five years and are coming off of a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Arsenal last weekend. Palace will certainly be up for it once again and Chelsea slipping up could prove costly in the title/top-four race.
After a rare day off in midweek, Kepa Arrizabalaga should return to the starting lineup. There’s no debate who’s Chelsea’s number one goalkeeper.
There’s similar clarity over the preferred back four, with Sarri continuing to rely on his trusted quartet of Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rüdiger, David Luiz, and César Azpilicueta. Chelsea’s defensive frailties against Derby County won’t have done the second-string players any favours in terms of trying to challenge for Premier League minutes.
There’s at least one decision to make in midfield, Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have both been in good form, while Mateo Kovačić is the incumbent starter next to the undroppable Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté. For now, it seems highly likely that Barkley will be given the nod once again, just like last weekend — RLC (at right wing-forward) and Kovačić started on Wednesday with the rest of the rotation group.
Chelsea’s attacking department has been depleted by several injuries lately, and while Eden Hazard might be back, he’ll probably start the game only on the bench. Olivier Giroud is set to potentially miss out again as well — due to ”leg fatigue”, whatever that may be — so the most likely scenario will involve Pedro, Morata, and Willian getting the call, the latter for the eleventh time on the bounce.
Arrizabalaga | Alonso, Rüdiger, David Luiz, Azpilicueta | Barkley, Jorginho, Kanté | Willian, Morata, Pedro
THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE
The WAGNH community’s preferred lineup was voted on with the assumption that Hazard would be back, so his starting role is the only difference between that and the predicted lineup — Pedro (48%) just missing out in favor of Willian. Barkley gets the easy win over Kovačić (16%) and Loftus-Cheek (17%), and in defense, the situation is even more clear cut with Christensen’s 6% leading the way for the second-string.
Arrizabalaga (99%) | Alonso (97%), Rüdiger (99%), David Luiz (92%), Azpilicueta (96%) | Barkley (86%), Jorginho (97%), Kanté (94%) | Hazard (82%), Morata (60%), Willian (52%)
My preferred lineup is very similar to the ones above, though choosing that midfield was extremely tough. I understand the calls to field both Barkley and Loftus-Cheek at the same time, but relegating a player of Kanté’s importance seems unwise, at best. Chelsea have rarely been able to convince without N’Golo in midfield over the past three seasons. As the community did, I picked Hazard ahead of Willian, but maybe that’s more optimistic than anything else.
Arrizabalaga | Alonso, Rüdiger, David Luiz, Azpilicueta | Barkley, Jorginho, Kanté | Hazard, Morata, Pedro
COME ON, YOU BLUES!