Premier League champions Chelsea are set to host fellow London side Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, having already tasted defeat at the hands of the struggling Eagles earlier this season.
Palace, lodged in 18th place in the league standings, face an uphill battle for survival, while the Blues are engaged in a fight of their own at the other end of the table. Antonio Conte’s men are in real danger of finishing out of the top four though, now trailing fourth-placed Tottenham by five points in fifth.
This is a crucial match for both sides, albeit with vastly different agendas. Chelsea cannot afford to drop any points, as it is likely to spell the end in terms of Champions League qualification if Spurs beat Bournemouth on Sunday.
Palace also need every point they can get, given their current position, so fans will be expecting both sides to have a real go.
The Blues lost to Palace on their home turf almost three years ago (August 29, 2015), in similar circumstances. They had just won the Premier League title, their third under Jose Mourinho, and were touted to defend their crown by just about everyone.
As we all know by now, things went about as far from as planned as possible, with Chelsea finishing 10th in the league and Jose Mourinho getting fired by December.
On the day in question, Mourinho stepped out of the Stamford Bridge tunnel to oversee what was his 100th home game in charge, having lost just one match at Stamford Bridge.
The teams failed to score in the first half, but Bakary Sako would get on the end of Yannick Bolasie’s low cross to fire home for the Eagles in the 65th minute.
The Blues would respond with a goal of their own, with new signing Radamel Falcao coming on to score a neat header in minute 79, but their joy was short-lived as Joel Ward nodded in what proved to be the winner just two minutes later, condemning the home side to an embarrassing loss, Mourinho’s second at the Bridge.
Things have gone from very bad to dreadful for Conte’s side, who have dropped out of the top four in recent weeks. Form has been horrific since the turn of the year, with the reigning champs only managing four wins in 2018.
Only one of their last five league matches has yielded a win. Chelsea’s victory against West Brom followed two defeats to Bournemouth and Watford and they’ve since picked up losses at both Old Trafford and the Etihad.
Palace, meanwhile, haven’t won a single fixture since January 13, losing to Arsenal, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United, also sharing the points in fixtures against West Ham and Newcastle.
Things are looking up for them, however, as they won their first match of the season playing Chelsea, having lost seven on the bounce prior to hosting the Blues.
Chelsea are poised to welcome Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ethan Ampadu back to the squad, as well as N’Golo Kante, who did not feature against City after a fainting spell.
David Luiz (ankle) and Ross Barkley (thigh), however, remain sidelined for the time being.
Palace have a host of players injured but could field Wilfried Zaha after his return to training from a knee injury.
Bakary Sakho won’t be making a comeback this season after injuring his ankle, while Connor Wickham (knee), Julian Speroni (knee), Mamadou Sakho (calf/heel), Joel Ward (shoulder), Yohan Cabaye (groin), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Knee), Scott Dann (knee) and Jason Puncheon (knee) will all sit this one out.
As mentioned before, this is a must-win game for both sides and it’s just as important to one as it is to the other.