Chelsea FC: Who Should Make Jose Mourinho's Starting XI vs. Crystal Palace?

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Chelsea FC: Who Should Make Jose Mourinho's Starting XI vs. Crystal Palace?
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Chelsea winning the Premier League should always be their top priority. Though, with a Champions League quarter-final looming on Wednesday, the Blues may have an eye on their clash against French champions Paris Saint-Germain before their Saturday visit to Selhurst Park.

A three-day turn around from Premier League to Champions League football isn't ideal for the west London outfit.

Which match is of greater importance to Chelsea Football Club?

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The line up Jose Mourinho employs will be a telling sign as to which competition he feels Chelsea have the better odds of winning.

Should Mourinho play his best starting XI against Crystal Palace, he's going for the Premier League. Should a slightly weaker side be fielded, a European triumph's on the Portuguese's mind.

To put the competitions in perspective: The Blues have seven games left in the Premier League, if they win all seven they could potentially fall short. Conversely, five straight wins in Europe and Roberto Di Matteo's "big trophy with the big ears" is London bound.

Ever the pragmatist, Mourinho just might rate his UCL chances over his domestic league. Thus, this line-up isn't the best Chelsea starting XI in a vacuum but one with Wednesday's trip to Paris fully in mind.

Saturday's three points are just as important to Crystal Palace as they are to Chelsea; Tony Pulis won't be doing anything fool-hearted.

Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Stoke City's former architect of direct football, Tony Pulis, is working his point voodoo in south London this season.

If Palace attempt to play as Arsenal did, they'll be slaughtered. A draw against the Blues would be deemed a good point in the relegation battle; not to mention stifling Chelsea's momentum early in games can lead to great results (see Aston Villa).

The Eagles will look to slow the game down, coagulate the midfield and—in every sense of the word—be tempestuous.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press
David Luiz and Nemanja Matic worked well again Arsenal. If it isn't broken...
Mourinho should look to add creativity to his midfield. Ramires cannot play due to his suspension and is certain to start against PSG—leaving Nemanja Matic, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and David Luiz as options in the double pivot of the 4-2-3-1.

Matic is Champions League cup-tied, making him a lock for Palace. The European experience Frank Lampard has should come in handy against PSG—and he's unlikely to start two games in five days—which leaves Luiz and Mikel for Saturday.

The Brazilian defender/midfielder played well enough against Arsenal to keep his place. Therefore the midfield paring of Matic and Luiz is foundational. Allowing Ramires and Lampard to be fresh come Wednesday.

In the attacking third, Eden Hazard is an automatic selection for both games, Oscar likewise.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle have the ability to pick locks. Ask Fulham.

On the right wing, Andre Schurrle is coming into a vein of form and should start at Selhurst Park. Willian (back from suspension) offers the stamina, pace and power European battles require, so don't be surprised if the German plays Saturday and the Brazilian's saved for PSG.

Samuel Eto'o's unavailability due to injury leaves an opportunity for Fernando Torres to start. El Nino showed flashes against Arsenal, assisting on Oscar's tap-in goal and being a general nuisance to the Gunners back four.

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Fernando Torres' moment to impress both manager and club will be given this weekend.
According to Sky Sports' Patrick Haond, Eto'o hopes to play in Wednesday's Champions League fixture; Torres should see Crystal Palace as the perfect chance to find his form and seize the "No. 9" role moving forward.

Chelsea's defence has been rather untouchable all season, but—with two massively important fixtures in four days—some tweaking and shifting could be in the offing.

The fitness of *Ashley Cole is the preeminent factor for changes. If the England international cannot go, Mourinho's best bet would be to roll the dice with Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic twice.

Per Mirror's Martin Lipton, Mourinho expected Cole's knee injury to keep him out a fortnight. Now three weeks later, Cole could offer the Portuguese manager an opportunity to save the legs of either Ivanovic or Azpilicueta for Paris Saint-Germain. It's an option Mourinho should take if available.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Chelsea's success this season—in large part—can be placed at the four boots of John Terry and Gary Cahill.
The centre-back paring of Terry and Cahill will be spared by Palace likely having less than 40 percent of the possession. Meaning the defenders must be wary of the odd Eagles counter-attack, but they shouldn't exert themselves too heavily.

That said, Crystal Palace could be a classic trap game for the Blues.

Giving too much attention to the Champions League would be detrimental but not placing enough could be just as ill-fated. Mourinho will need every scintilla of his genius to get positive results this week. As losing—or even drawing—this London derby could prove fatal to the Blues' title aspirations.

And so it seems there are no easy or unimportant games left this season; every match has relevance one way or the other—which should make for some tense moments and gripping story lines.

EPL Index / Opta

 

*Update: According to Jose Mourinho's Friday presser, Ashley Cole and Samuel Eto'o will miss Saturday's game at Crystal Palace due to injury.

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