Chelsea will play their fourth London derby of the month when they travel to Crystal Palace this weekend. The Blues have scored 13 goals in the three previous matches against their local rivals, conceding just once.
Despite this, the 1-0 loss at Aston Villa sandwiched between the 4-0 thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur and the 6-0 mauling of Arsenal will give Jose Mourinho plenty to think about ahead of Saturday’s clash. With one eye on next week’s trip to Paris in the Champions League, let’s run through the Special One’s likely choices for his starting XI at Selhurst Park.
Mourinho’s first spell at Stamford Bridge was characterised by a solid back four. After some tinkering earlier in the campaign, he has settled on his first-choice back line of Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta. The Blues have conceded just 23 goals in the Premier League this season, and only three in 2014. Given that this is the best defensive record of any side in the league, the back four should remain unchanged for Saturday.
Nemanja Matic is unavailable for next week’s Champions League trip to Paris, making it highly likely that he will continue his excellent work in midfield. His strength, positioning and relentless pressuring of the opposition have been the key to Chelsea’s most high-profile victories since he rejoined the Blues in January.
Frank Lampard will be needed for Wednesday’s trip to Paris, making David Luiz the most likely partner for Matic in the middle. With his range of passing and ability to bully opponents off the ball, Luiz presents a more dynamic midfield option than John Obi Mikel, and with Ramires still suspended, he should start on Saturday.
Despite suffering a dip in form of late, Oscar should retain his place in the No. 10 role. His brace against Arsenal will have boosted his confidence as he tries to balance his attacking talents with his instinct for tracking back. According to the official Chelsea website, Eden Hazard has been nominated for the PFA Fans' Player of the Month award for March, and it would be a surprise if he did not start on Oscar’s left on Saturday.
Although Willian is available following his one-match ban, Andre Schurrle should be given the opportunity to continue his goalscoring run. With four goals, the German has more than doubled his tally for the Blues during March and will be relishing the opportunity to cement his place in the starting XI.
Samuel Eto’o was withdrawn early in the Arsenal match with a tight hamstring and is unlikely to recover in time for Saturday. He was probably not going to feature in this fixture anyway after Mourinho stated his preference for Fernando Torres away from home, per The Mirror. However, the Spaniard will have to put in a better performance than the one he turned in against Aston Villa if the Blues are to get the required result.
Chelsea’s title challenge may be out of their hands, but they will be well aware that a win against Palace is the only way to keep on the track.
Statistics per Squawka.com