MX23RW : Thursday, August 5 00:29:13| >> :120:6046:6046:
Apr 1, 2017 at 3pm UK at Stamford Bridge
Attendance: 41,489
Chelsea
1-2
Crystal Palace
FT(HT: 1-2)
Zaha (9'), Benteke (11')

Preview: Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Premier League clash between leaders Chelsea and a resurgent Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea will look to pick up their Premier League title charge upon the resumption of domestic matters this weekend when they host Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.

Antonio Conte's side go into the game with a 10-point lead at the top of the table, but the Eagles will make the short trip to West London in good form themselves.


Chelsea

Antonio Conte is happy during the Premier League game between Stoke City and Chelsea on March 18, 2017© SilverHub

The period after the final international break of the season marks the home straight, and for Chelsea it is one that looks destined for them to be crowned champions.

Messrs Guardiola, Klopp, Mourinho and Wenger have all failed to keep up with the relentless pace set by Conte's side this season, with Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham Hotspur the only club left with any hope of chasing the champions-elect down.

Even that is a very slim hope, and there have been no signs of Chelsea taking their foot off the pedal - certainly not to the extent where they could surrender their 10-point lead over the final 10 games of the campaign.

Instead, these final months of the season are more likely to be a title procession for the Blues, who go into this weekend's match on a 12-game unbeaten streak across all competitions that includes 10 wins and stretches back to the beginning of January.

That loss to Tottenham remains Chelsea's only league defeat in their last 22 outings, and considering Chelsea have taken a whopping 59 points from the 66 on offer in that time it is little surprise to see them so far clear at the top of the table.

A scrappy and hard-fought 2-1 win over Stoke City before the international break only served to strengthen Chelsea's title credentials, with Gary Cahill's 87th-minute winner at the bet365 Stadium falling neatly into the cliched bracket of being the sign of champions.

It says plenty for the comfortable nature of Chelsea's position that perhaps Conte's biggest concern right now is the fact that his side are without a clean sheet in their last six league games - a stark contrast to the run of 12 in 16 which preceded it.

The Blues still boast the league's joint-best defence, though, not to mention its second-deadliest attack, and Diego Costa is expected to resume his search for a 50th Premier League goal this weekend. One goal would see the Spain international become the seventh Chelsea player to reach that milestone and the joint fifth-fastest after 81 matches.

It is the future of Costa and Eden Hazard which is making the headlines in the absence of any questions regarding their performances on the pitch, but Conte will pay little heed to the overtures from Spain as he looks to march on towards a fourth top-flight title of his managerial career.

Recent form: DWDWWW
Recent form (all competitions): DWWWWW


Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace manager Sam Allardyce watches on during his side's Premier League clash with Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on January 31, 2017© SilverHub

Only four teams in the Premier League have won their last three games, and two of them meet this weekend with Palace's trip to the Bridge.

The Eagles have seen a sharp upturn in form just when they needed it most, winning as many points in their last three outings as they had in their previous 19.

A little over a month ago Palace sat joint-bottom of the Premier League table and Sam Allardyce's proud record of never having been relegated looked to be under serious threat, but they go into this weekend sitting 16th and with a four-point gap over the bottom three.

In fairness to Allardyce, he said from the start that it would take time for him to turn things around with Palace, but even this three-match winning streak against Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion and Watford may have surprised him.

Even more impressive is the fact that they have kept clean sheets in all of those matches having only managed two in their previous 30 Premier League outings - an improvement which has coincided with the introduction of loanee Mamadou Sakho to the team.

Should the Eagles maintain their recent form with a shock win over Chelsea then it would be the first time that they have managed four league wins on the bounce since April 2015, but the statistics do not look kind for Allardyce's side.

Only Sunderland have conceded the opening goal of a game on more occasions than Palace (19), while Chelsea have broken the deadlock a league-high 22 times this season.

The contrasting records in London derbies this term also points at a mismatch, with Chelsea having taken 15 points from meetings with their fellow capital dwellers - the most in that mini-league - while Palace have lost all five without scoring a single goal.

Allardyce will also know that his side are far from safe just yet, with a daunting run-in ahead of them that sees them face all of the current top six in their final 10 matches of the campaign.

That includes visits to Anfield, the Etihad Stadium and Old Trafford to come after this weekend's trip to Stamford Bridge, but Palace have actually been better on their travels this season and have won two of their last three away league games - as many as they had managed in their previous 22.

However, they are coming up against a Chelsea side on a 13-match winning streak at home across all competitions, while they have won 16 of their 17 outings at Stamford Bridge all season.

Recent form: WLLWWW


Team News

Eden Hazard in action during the Premier League game between Chelsea and Arsenal on February 4, 2017© SilverHub

Chelsea have used the fewest players and made the fewest changes to their starting lineup this season, but Conte will be hopeful of making at least one switch this weekend.

Hazard missed the win over Stoke with a calf injury that also forced him out of international duty with Belgium, but the talismanic winger returned to training on Thursday and could be in line to return.

Hazard's compatriot Thibaut Courtois was also back in training having nursed a hip injury during the international break, while Costa should be fit to start despite an injury scare during his time away with Spain.

Wing-back Victor Moses is also a doubt due to a calf strain, but Cesc Fabregas will be hopeful of returning to the starting XI in place of Nemanja Matic.

Palace, meanwhile, will hand a late fitness test to Patrick van Aanholt as he battles to return from ankle ligament damage, and Mathieu Flamini and James McArthur are also doubts for the match.

Steve Mandanda has returned to full training after a lengthy spell out with a knee injury but may not feature after three consecutive clean sheets, while Connor Wickham and Pape Souare are longer-term absentees and Loic Remy is ineligible to play against his parent club.

Allardyce could name an unchanged side from the win over Watford before the international break having seemingly settled on his preferred starting XI and formation.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Costa, Hazard

Crystal Palace possible starting lineup:
Hennessey; Ward, Tomkins, Sakho, Schlupp; Cabaye, Milivojevic, Zaha, Puncheon, Townsend; Benteke


Head To Head

Chelsea have dominated this fixture in recent years, winning 12 and losing just two of their last 18 league meetings with Crystal Palace.

Palace have only ever won one top-flight game at Stamford Bridge, losing eight and drawing five, but that solitary victory came in the corresponding fixture last season when goals from Bakary Sako and Joel Ward cancelled out a Radamel Falcao strike.

The reverse fixture this term came in the final match before Christmas when Costa got the only goal of the game just before half time.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Chelsea 2-0 Crystal Palace

Palace arrive at Stamford Bridge in good form, but this is a few steps up from anything they have come up against during their three-match winning streak. Chelsea are flying at the moment and, while they are not exactly blowing teams away, they are doing enough to get the job done. We expect another professional showing and another three points from the hosts.



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Eden Hazard in action during the Premier League game between Chelsea and Arsenal on February 4, 2017
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Thursday's key events


ATHLETICS
· The women's heptathlon continues with the long jump, javelin and 800m, with Katarina Johnson-Thompson now out of contention following an injury (1.10am-1.40pm)
· Andrew Pozzi pursues his dream of an Olympic medal in the men's 110m hurdles final (3.55am)
· Tom Bosworth and Callum Wilkinson are among the British hopes in the men's 20km race walk (8.30am)
· Holly Bradshaw aims to improve on fifth in Rio to challenge Greece's Katerina Stefanidi and Anzhelika Sidorova of Russia for an unlikely medal in the women's pole vault (11am)
· London 2012 champion Kirani James goes up against current world champion Steven Gardiner in the men's 400m final (1pm)

MARATHON SWIMMING
· One of the toughest Olympic events takes place in Tokyo Bay as GB's Hector Pardoe takes on the men's 20km marathon swim (10.30pm Wed)

BOXING
· Galal Yafai takes on takes on Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov for a spot in the gold medal bout of the fly (48kg-52kg) class (6.48am)

DIVING
· Lois Toulson and Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix (daughter of First Dates' Fred Sirieix) line up for the women's 10m platform (semi-final 2am; final 7am)

HOCKEY
· Australia face Belgium in the men's final (11am)

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