Premier League: Chelsea v Crystal Palace Preview

Antonio ContePremier League leaders Chelsea will take another step towards the title if they defeat a resurgent Crystal Palace side at Stamford Bridge this weekend (3pm Saturday).

Antonio Conte’s men ground out another victory last time out, beating Stoke City 2-1 thanks to goals from Willian and Gary Cahill. It was a fully deserved triumph despite the fact that the narrowness of the final scoreline suggests otherwise, with the Blues once again dominant as they continue to prove too strong for the rest of the division.

Chelsea’s lead at the summit of the standings therefore remains at 10 points heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures. It is virtually impossible to envisage them blowing such an advantageous position in their final 10 games of the campaign. The bookmakers certainly think it is all over with odds ranging from 1/20 to 1/50 for Chelsea to get their collective hands on the trophy.

Conte’s charges have been beaten by Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Liverpool this term, but they are on the cusp of winning the league because of their superb record against those sides – including Crystal Palace – outside the top six. When facing such teams, Chelsea have dropped points on only three occasions (a 1-1 draw with Burnley last month and a 2-2 draw with Swansea City in September).

Crystal Palace have really picked up in recent weeks, winning each of their last three top-flight outings without conceding a single goal. It has been a much-needed upturn in fortunes for the Eagles, who looked to be sinking towards the Championship before their recent turnaround. Sam Allardyce deserves a great deal of credit for overseeing such a vast improvement, while January additions Luka Milivojevic and Mamadou Sakho have played in significant role in bolstering the team defensively.

A 1-0 defeat of Watford at Selhurst Park prior to the international break moved Palace four points clear of the bottom three, while they also have a game in hand on both Hull City and Swansea below them. Allardyce’s side will find things difficult against the table-toppers this weekend, however, and a tough schedule in April and May means survival should not be taken for granted at this stage.

Chelsea have been fortunate with a lack of injuries all season long, and Conte has no major concerns ahead of Saturday’s showdown at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard has shaken off a calf strain and will feature from the start after missing out at Stoke. Victor Moses and John Terry are both available for selection after fitness issues of their own. Cesc Fabregas will probably return to the team to offer creativity and guile in the centre of the park, while Willian is the man most likely to make way for Hazard.

Palace will have to make do without Connor Wickham (knee), Steve Mandanda (knee), Pape Souare (broken leg) and Jonathan Benteke (knee), but James McArthur, Loic Remy, Patrick van Aanholt and Mathieu Flamini could all return to the matchday squad. Allardyce will continue with the 4-3-3 formation that he has employed in recent weeks, with Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke and Andros Townsend forming the front three, Milivojevic , Yohan Cabaye and captain Jason Puncheon continuing in midfield, and James Tomkins partnering Sakho at centre-back.

Despite Palace’s victories over Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion and Watford in their last three encounters, this preview can not go against another Chelsea win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. The Blues are so dominant at home, having won 11 consecutive Premier League games in front of their own fans since September’s loss to Liverpool, and should be good enough to collect another three points on their march to the championship crown. With regard the betting tips, a home success in a match featuring fewer than 2.5 goals (11/5 with Coral) could be the way to go, while the odds on Fabregas finding the net (7/2 with Unibet) are appealing.

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