Traditionally, when Chelsea are the visitors to Selhurst Park, there is a sense of trepidation as the Blues would normally be arriving as one of the top teams in the Premier League. But this is an abnormal year in many ways with the likes of Leicester making the headlines for the right reasons whilst Chelsea are a club in meltdown; a meltdown that ousted Jose Mourinho from his job in December.
They are unrecognisable from the club that strolled to the title last season, as a prime example of this extraordinary decline Eden Hazard has turned from the imperious into the invisible.
With wily Guus Hiidink at the helm, the Dutchman seems to have steadied the ship and there is a feeling that they have finally turned the corner and are now on the road to recovery. For Palace who are 11 points clear of their West London rivals, the hope is that the vulnerability and fragility of the champions can still be exposed. The loss of Yohan Cabaye through suspension is a massive blow as he is the conductor who can dictate the pace of the game and gives the team a calm assurance, which will be sadly lacking.
Alongside missing the Frenchman, with both Connor Wickham and Yannick Bolasie out injured there is a heavy reliance on Wilfried Zaha to provide some spark upfront. This will be Zaha’s 200th appearance for the club, which is a considerable landmark for the 23 year-old. His full debut against Leicester back in August 2010 sticks in the mind as he looked so confident and also he scored which hopefully augurs well for the 200th game of his Palace career. The fact that he could be up against Branislav Ivanovic, who has been another illustration of Chelsea’s fall from grace, gives encouragement.
Hopefully Damien Delaney will return from injury as his battle with Diego Costa in the game at Stamford Bridge in August was one of the prime reasons that Palace took all three points, with the man from Cork keeping the usually lethal Costa extremely quiet. The depth of the Palace squad is stretched to the limits at the moment and there needs to be a resilience and vibrancy from all the players if a positive result is to be secured. Chelsea may not be the dominant force they once were but as a wounded animal they are still a dangerous prospect.
Richard Foster is a freelance football writer and author, who is a regular features contributor for The Guardian. He also writes for Sabotage Times and a variety of Palace blogs and fanzines.
The revised paperback edition of his latest book The Agony & The Ecstasy – A Comprehensive History of the Football League Play-Offs – is out now and available through usual bookshops, online & via Ockley Books – http://bit.ly/1SKsnfc.
Talking Balls! His sports quotes book, was published in September and is the perfect stocking filler for any sports fan this Christmas – http://amzn.to/1RjV7Lw
Follow him on twitter @rcfoster