Chelsea welcome Premier League newcomers Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge, having conceded six goals in their last two Premier League fixtures. With league leaders Arsenal travelling to Manchester City later in the weekend, this match presents a vital opportunity to claw back some points to close the gap at the top.
Mourinho: 'Five points to the top of the table is a gap that is not a drama, but it must not open further.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) December 13, 2013
Jose Mourinho was left fuming after the Blues’ shock defeat to Stoke City, lamenting his side's inability to defend set pieces. Their performance in the 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest that saw them top their Champions League group was comprehensive in their control of the game.
At his pre-match press conference, Mourinho confirmed that Cesar Azpilicueta would return to the starting lineup to give Ashley Cole a rest ahead of next week’s trip to Sunderland in the Capital One Cup.
He also ruled out Gary Cahill, who has picked up a slight injury, according to the club's official website. This means that John Terry will continue his run of starting every Premier League game this season, with David Luiz alongside him in the heart of defence. Branislav Ivanovic will complete the back four.
Frank Lampard and Ramires will likely continue their partnership in the pivot with John Obi Mikel making way for the Brazilian.
Andre Schurrle has certainly earned his place back in the team, having scored both goals in Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at Stoke City. He should start against Palace, most likely at the expense of Eden Hazard. The Belgian has struggled for consistency after his excellent performance at Sunderland, and will probably be rested ahead of the Capital One Cup match at the Stadium of Light next week.
Oscar has been Mourinho’s first-choice No. 10 all season and appears to be refreshed after his rest. Juan Mata should start on the right of the attacking trio as he continues to fight for his place in the team.
Mourinho has refused to openly criticise his strikers, but it is clear that he expects more from them. Their inability to convert chances into goals led him to say this at his pre-match press conference (via the Daily Mail):
Some strikers have fantastic individual qualities and can do what their team can't. Ours are more in the team organisation. Our strikers do other jobs in the team dynamic, that's why I'm not critical, but I expect them to score a little more.
Demba Ba scored the only goal of the game against Steaua Bucharest, but was guilty of some glaring misses. Although Fernando Torres has struggled to get a run of consistently good form going, this game could give him the perfect opportunity to get himself back on the scoresheet.
Crystal Palace have only taken three points from their four London derbies this season, but the results have not always reflected their performances. They were unlucky to lose to Arsenal, but they will have to be at their best to end Mourinho’s unbeaten Premier League run at Stamford Bridge.