Alan Pardew celebrates a year in charge of Crystal Palace as they aim to complete a famous league double over Chelsea when the two sides meet at Selhurst Park on Sunday.
They began 2015 battling relegation, but such is the transformation that Pardew has instigated that the club ended up finishing in the top half and is now gunning for a European place, sitting pretty in fifth. Here they will hoping to extend an unbeaten run that currently stands at five games, but in order to win the Eagles will have to improve on their last two attacking displays, with the absence of Yannick Bolasie being felt in successive goalless draws.
It was Palace’s wing play which did for Chelsea when the sides met back in August and they will targeting success in similar fashion here with Wilfried Zaha the man Pardew will rely on to do most of the damage. In midfield it will be down to Mile Jedinak and Jordon Mutch to dictate the play, but Palace was be wary of committing too many men forward given the pace the visitors have on the counter-attack.
That quality on the break was not made full use of by Chelsea in their own stalemate at Manchester United on Monday, where it seemed at times that they were more than happy to settle for a point rather than go all out for victory. The one big chance they did have was missed in glaring fashion by Nemanja Matic, but whether it was due to a lack of confidence or interim boss Guus Hiddink attempting to steady the ship, a team full of fine individuals played within itself.
While the thought of the club being relegated is almost inconceivable, the gap between them and the drop zone stands at just three points so the wins must start arriving quickly. This will be a tough game to take three points from, and on the whole it appears that this is set to be a tight and closely fought encounter, with both teams having struggled for goals of late. Chelsea may have got the result they wanted at Old Trafford, but they need wins and until they do start coming with regularity, the pressure will be on.
Patrick Bamford has cut his loan spell at Palace short, but would have ineligible for this game anyway. Yohan Cabaye misses out through suspension, while Connor Wickham, Dwight Gayle and Bakary Sako join Bolasie on the injury list.
Chelsea will again be able to field a recognised striker as Diego Costa returns from a one-match ban. Loic Remy – linked with Aston Villa – is doubtful, but Gary Cahill may be fit after an ankle problem.
The hosts’ one man advantage did not last long as Damien Delaney committed his second bookable offence, and after half-time the win was sealed as Cesc Fabregas finished off a stunning passing move for one of the goals of the season. Fraizer Campbell grabbed a late consolation.