It's an early-evening date south of the river for the Blues tonight, and club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton have prepared for the next instalment of this action-packed run-in...
Tonight sees Chelsea, the second-highest Premier League goalscorers on the road, travel to Crystal Palace, the lowest-scoring hosts in the top flight. The fourth-placed Blues have had a good restart, winning four of five games faced, while Roy Hodgson’s side, secure in mid-table, have sustained three consecutive losses.
Frank Lampard has noted his youthful team’s mentality seems stronger when recovering lost ground than capitalising on others’ slip-ups, but his team can deliver a further blow to the confidence of Leicester, who have a tricky trip to Arsenal, by leapfrogging them with victory this evening.
Chelsea have pocketed all three points on seven of the past nine visits to Selhurst Park, starting with a Paul Furlong winner for Glenn Hoddle’s men in September 1994. The last South London draw between the two sides was in March 1993, under caretaker manager David Webb.
This match completes the Blues’ London derby campaign. Palace, unbeaten at home in capital clashes, are still to play Tottenham, and Spurs will also face Arsenal this weekend.
Victory tonight would make Frank Lampard the first English manager to do the league double over Crystal Palace for Chelsea since Dave Sexton in 1971/72.
— Key Stat
By beating Watford on Saturday, Chelsea notched up a fourth league ‘double’, adding to those over Aston Villa, Burnley, and, of course, Tottenham. That could rise to five at Palace tonight.
The comfortable 2-0 success in the reverse fixture at the Bridge in November followed an away win against the Hornets, both during a six-match winning streak.
There was no Manager of the Month hoodoo for Frank Lampard as in-form Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic found the net in the second-half rain and Reece James nullified the threat of Wilfried Zaha.
The Blues will expect more of the same from Palace tonight. Hodgson’s team defend deeply without the ball, darting towards the opponent with the ball hoping to win possession and initiate a counter-attack. Lone striker Christian Benteke is usually the first target for passing from the back, and Zaha is brought into play as much as possible. The Ivorian is the most tackled player in the league this season.
Whether boisterous or becalmed, as it is now, the Holmesdale End has witnessed just 26 league goals this season – 12 for Palace, 14 for the visitors – and just seven in the opening 45. That is by some distance the fewest in the top flight. Poignantly, Chelsea’s much-loved former centre-back Gary Cahill has been responsible for three of the Eagles’ meagre seven shots on target since the resumption.
Willian’s efficiency continues unabated and after Saturday he has recorded seven goals and two assists in eight games across all competitions since early March (Cesar Azpilicueta’s contribution from left-back was his sixth set-up of the campaign too). This is now his most productive season in royal blue statistically speaking, with nine goals and five assists in the league. He has five more opportunities remaining to improve those numbers.
|Tammy Abraham||13 goals||3 assists||16 combined|
The Brazilian has a 100 per cent success rate from the seven penalties he has taken since arriving in London, and is the first ever Chelsea player to score from the spot in three successive Premier League matches. (Five players at other clubs have done so – none have managed four.)
The Blues have taken seven spot-kicks in the league this season, equalling the biggest total since 11 during Eden Hazard’s first season, 2012/13. If that seems a lot, think on this. At the weekend Manchester United were awarded their 17th this season in all competitions, equalling the club record set in 1984/85. They have converted 13 of those, and are on course to be chief beneficiaries in the Premier League for the second season running.
Tonight’s hosts, Palace, were awarded the second-highest number of penalties in 2018/19 (11), and the most in 2017/18 (10). As a result, between 2017 and 2019 midfielder Luka Milivojevic took 23 penalties, scoring 21. Zaha was responsible for winning 16 of them, including their most recent at Arsenal in October.
More of the same
The swatting of the Hornets carried on the best aspects of the West Ham performance – pace in passing, playing through the lines – but was more efficient at both ends.
Since the restart Mason Mount’s overall injection of effort and quality has been more evenly distributed across a whole match to great effect, while Ross Barkley, whose soft-shoe shuffle netted his first league goal in 20 months and an assist for Olivier Giroud, has maintained the form he showed in March.
In defence, Kurt Zouma’s dominant performance was hailed by many, and his past four starts in all competitions have now ended in wins and a clean sheet. The France international’s aerial presence is one of the reasons the Blues looked much more comfortable defending crosses than at the London Stadium.
Another is that Watford had scored only three goals from that source. Crystal Palace have been only marginally more successful with six, and have also attempted the second-fewest crosses in the league this season.
Meanwhile, injuries to N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic have created a defensive midfield dilemma. Although he turned to Billy Gilmour to see out the Watford win, Frank Lampard later confirmed Jorginho (who missed the first game after restart through suspension) remains in his thoughts.
Homegrown subs record
It truly is a strange world when a triple substitution, as seen on Saturday at home to Watford, is not considered a drastic measure. But with the allowance increased to five what was once remarkable is now standard, and Chelsea were winning comfortably at the time.
For the record, all four replacements used against Watford last weekend (Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, plus Billy Gilmour) were graduates of the Chelsea Academy - a new club record in all competitions. Frank Lampard has yet to use all five in a league game, but did so in the FA Cup win at Leicester.
Although there is not let up in Chelsea’s arduous fixture list, the timing of tonight’s games means the Blues could move into third place, at least until we know the outcome of Leicester’s 8.15pm encounter with Arsenal at the Emirates.
Obviously it would be helpful if our north London neighbours could do us another favour after they beat Wolves on Saturday. That ended the Black Country side’s perfect June, and left Manchester United as the only team in the top half still unbeaten since the restart.
There are still five games to go before the league finale in 18 days’ time, and it would be remarkable if the toll did not start to tell on some, if not all teams.
As things stands, though, three more wins would secure sixth place for Chelsea as London’s top club, and avoiding defeat in one of the other two should be enough to seal fifth because of superior goal difference to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
|Arsenal a||Bournemouth a||Sheff Utd h|
|Palace a||Sheff Utd a||Norwich h|
|Villa a||Southampton h||Palace a|
Looming into view on the Blues’ horizon are the big games that will close the campaign: the rearranged trip to champions Liverpool on Wednesday 22, then Wolves at the Bridge on the final day.
New man in black
Playing squads are not the only resources stretched by the unusual intensity of this tail-end to the season. This evening, referee David Coote takes charge of his 25th match in the top flight, but his first ever involving Chelsea.
Coote was, though, the VAR in February when Tottenham’s Giovanni Lo Celso escaped punishment for what Frank Lampard condemned as ‘a leg-breaker’ stamp on Azpilicueta during our 2-1 victory.
Readers may recall the initial explanation from Stockley Park was that the video reviewer ‘did not feel there was anywhere else for [Lo Celso] to put his boot.’ However, officials later admitted the error and that the Spurs man ought to have seen red.
The Nottinghamshire official has taken charge of two previous Palace games this term, both of them defeats for the Eagles.
Saturday night brought the first 3-0 since Three have graced our shirts. As well as registering only our third clean sheet in the league since the turn of the year, the Blues have now scored two or more goals in all of the past seven top-flight games.
The last time such a goalscoring sequence happened was an eight-in-a-row blitz under title-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti in 2010: Stoke h 7-0, Liverpool a 2-0, Wigan h 8-0 (all 2009/10), West Brom 6-0, Wigan a 6-0, Stoke h 2-0, West Ham a 3-1, and Blackpool h 4-0 (2010/11).
New balls, please
In the meantime, Nike have unveiled the new official match ball for the 2020/21 Premier League season. Goalkeepers have regularly complained about the unpredictable flight of today’s lighter footballs, which have a smooth surface rendering them liable to drag and swerve as they pass through the air.
The new ‘Flight’ ball, made up of four panels rather than the usual twelve, features moulded groove surface technology the company has branded AerowSculpt. After 1,700 hours of testing over the past eight years, they claim its improved aerodynamics will deliver ‘a more stable flight’.
It may have an additional, unexpected effect. With all that additional surface grip, will we see a spate of new long-throw specialists next season?
Premier League results and fixtures
Tottenham 1-0 Everton
Crystal Palace v Chelsea 6pm (Sky Sports)
Watford v Norwich 6pm (Sky Sports)
Arsenal v Leicester 8.15pm (Sky Sports)
Man City v Newcastle 6pm (BT Sport)
Sheffield Utd v Wolves 6pm (Sky Sports)
West Ham v Burnley 6pm (BT Sport)
Brighton v Liverpool 8.15pm (Sky Sports)
Bournemouth v Tottenham 6pm (Sky Sports)
Everton v Southampton 6pm (Amazon Prime)
Aston Villa v Man Utd 8.15pm (Sky Sports)