This is worth a read, by John Brewin.
Let’s unpack these teamsThen.
Chelsea play in their usual 4-2-3-1 system, but are still somewhat unorthadox due to injuries and suspensions. Nkunku starts but looks like he will play in the No. 10 role behind Jackson. Penny for Madueke’s thoughts as Maatsan, normally a left-back (although he played further forward for Burnley last season), gets the nod on the wing. Lavia is on the bench and could therefore make his debut, but Caicedo is back alongside Gallagher in defensive midfield with Enzo injured. The back four is pretty stable, although it is interesting to see Thiago Silva on the bench. Perhaps Pochettino is concerned about Palace’s pace on the counter-attack.
A change to the Palace starting XI that drew at home to Brighton: Eze comes on for Hughes, the former making his comeback from injury and starting in the starting XI for the first time in over a month. Franca and Ozoh on the bench, as expected.
Chelsea: Petrovic, Gusto, Disasi, Badiashile, Colwill, Caicedo, Gallagher, Mudryk, Nkunku, Maatsen, Jackson.
Subs: Thiago Silva, Madueke, Bettinelli, Broja, Gilchrist, Lavia, Bergstrom, Matos, Castledine.
Crystal Palace: Henderson, Clyne, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell, Lerma, Richards, Olise, Eze, Ayew, Mateta.
Subs: Tomkins, Matheus Franca, Schlupp, Hughes, Ahamada, Matthews, Riedewald, Adaramola, Ozoh.
We’re not quite in January yet, Blues, but there’s still a sense of foreboding at Stamford Bridge. It’s not exactly news that Chelsea have been a mess since the halcyon days (!) of Thomas Tuchel, having some absurdly talented players in their squad alongside some very average players, in a tactical system that fluctuates from the sublime to the ridiculous . Their transfer strategy borders on a joke: the latest rumors are that they want to sell one of their best players this season (and stand-in captain) Conor Gallagher, while using the proceeds to buy a new striker. Chelsea definitely, definitely don’t need a striker. But yeah, you know. Why not?!
It is this type of decision making that has left the team disjointed and out of sync with each other and their fan base. But remarkably, there is still hope. Christopher Nkunku has endured a poor run of injuries since his £58m summer move from RB Leipzig but the Frenchman, 26 and in his prime, is one of Europe’s best players. He is a complete striker who is versatile on both feet and can both drop deep and penetrate backwards. A specialist in set pieces, he also has the physical and technical qualities to become the talisman of this team and is excellent in the air. He scored a header at Wolves on Sunday, in only his second appearance for Chelsea. Armando Broja is talented, Nicolas Jackson is receiving undeserved criticism for a 22-year-old who has only just arrived in this country and scored seven goals in his first 14 league games. But Nkunku is the one – of all the purchases Chelsea have made, I think he’s the best. Keep him fit and Chelsea should climb up the table. This would be an excellent time to place Nkunku on your fantasy team, so to speak.
It’s not all bad for Chelsea. There’s a League Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough to look forward to. Romeo Lavia, who has not kicked a ball for the first team since his £58million summer move, is set to make his debut. Moises Caicedo should be fit again this evening after recovering from illness.
Despite Cole Palmer and Raheem Sterling’s suspensions, Chelsea will fancy their chances against Palace. Chelsea have won their last 12 games against today’s visitors in the league and cup. Hodgson will be hoping for a similar performance to Manchester City’s 2-2 draw, rather than the dismal displays that have seen them lose six of their last ten games. After leading Brighton just before Christmas, Palace were very lucky to escape with a point.
Roy Hodgson is a reactive manager who rarely takes the initiative tactically. It’s a shame because despite the departure of Wilfried Zaha, Palace have the personnel to trouble teams, particularly with Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze. Young players like David Ozoh and Matheus França (a Brazilian teenager signed for £26m) were not given the minutes their promise deserved. Hodgson doesn’t let go of the handbrake easily. I would expect a cautious and experienced lineup tonight. Maybe Roy will prove me wrong.
Begin: 7:30pm GMT.