Chelsea will be eyeing up a return to the Premier League’s top 4 when they travel to Selhurst Park to play Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The Blues had looked rock-solid defensively since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel to replace Frank Lampard at the helm at Stamford Bridge in January.
The German coach had overseen Chelsea to 7 consecutive clean sheets, progression to the Champions League quarter finals and a rise back in to the Premier League’s top 4.
Nobody, then, really saw much other than a comfortable win for the Londoners over relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion last Saturday.
Football is laced with unpredictability, a notion often accentuated in the Premier League – perfectly encapsulated by the Baggies running out unlikely 5-2 victors.
Chelsea had only conceded twice under their new boss before shipping 5 against a side destined to be playing Championship football next season.
Things got off to a terrible start for the Blues, with defender Thiago Silva sent off upon his return to the side – he will miss this game with Crystal Palace due to suspension.
The Brazilian could feature in the Champions League midweek however, where Chelsea put the West Brom horror show behind them with an accomplished 2-0 quarter-final first leg victory over Porto.
Although in control of the tie and holding an away goal advantage, Chelsea will know the Portuguese outfit will take heart from the Baggies’ exploits when the second leg rolls around.
But it is Premier League affairs which return to the forefront of Thomas Tuchel’s thinking on Saturday, with victory over Crystal Palace essential to keep the pressure on West Ham, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur who are all circling that final top 4 berth.
Crystal Palace meanwhile welcome their West London opponents to Selhurst Park off the back of a draw against Everton last time out – a result welcomed by Chelsea as it makes the Toffees task of finishing in the Champions League places that little bit harder.
Ironically it was Michy Batshuayi – on loan from Chelsea – who got Palace’s equaliser in the 86th minute. As per the terms of the Belgian’s loan deal, though, Batshuayi is ineligible to face his parent club this weekend.
Roy Hodgson will not only have to deal with the absence of the striker, but also several other first team regulars as injury continues to be a large factor in the Eagles’ season.
James McCarthur, Nathan Ferguson, Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins are all ruled out of Saturday’s clash, with Hodgson still waiting for Nathaniel Clyne and James McCarthy to prove their fitness.
Crystal Palace currently sit 12th in the Premier League table and aren’t threatened by relegation or inspired by European ambitions – all things considered, another reasonable season by the Eagles’ standards.
Question marks remain over Roy Hodgson’s future at the club with his contract due to expire in the summer, but until that moment comes, he will be striving to pick up as many points as possible between now and the end of the season and avoid a repeat of the wretched run of form which soured the end of Palace’s 2019/20 campaign.
Crystal Palace v Chelsea kicks off at 5.30pm on Saturday 10th April.