Chelsea v Crystal Palace preview: Hosts need wins in race for top four
Last Updated: 10/03/18 8:39pm
Antonio Conte believes Chelsea cannot afford to drop any more points in their pursuit of a top-four Premier League finish, starting against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The Blues have suffered back-to-back league defeats and trail fourth-placed Tottenham by five points and seventh-placed Liverpool with nine matches remaining.
Chelsea lost the reverse fixture at Selhurst Park in October and Conte admits his side's results must improve if they are to stay in the hunt for Champions League qualification.
"The teams ahead of us are going with great velocity," Conte said. "For this reason I think it's important for us don't lose points, don't drop points, in every game. We must go [with] speed. We have to go."
Conte must decide whether to play Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud up front, or to continue with Eden Hazard as a false nine in tactics which were criticised during their loss at Manchester City on Sunday.
"Sometimes the critics are constructive, sometimes [they] are rubbish," Conte added. "I think that we must have respect for the job of the other. At the end pundits are pundits. Managers are managers."
Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante has trained all week and could feature, having fainted at the Blues' training ground ahead of their loss to Manchester City last weekend.
Defenders David Luiz (ankle) and Ethan Ampadu (hamstring) and midfielder Ross Barkley (hamstring) are out, but midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko is available again.
Palace will hand late fitness tests to Wilfried Zaha (knee ligaments) and Mamadou Sakho (calf), while Roy Hodgson also has the on-loan Timothy Fosu-Mensah available again following his ineligibility against parent club Manchester United.
Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Yohan Cabaye, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jason Puncheon, Bakary Sako, Connor Wickham and Julian Speroni are all still sidelined.
Chelsea have lost their last two Premier League games against Crystal Palace - the last side to beat them in three consecutively was Liverpool, with a run of four in May 2012.
The Eagles have won back-to-back Premier League games at Stamford Bridge, after failing to win any of their first 13 at the ground in top-flight competition (D5 L8).
The last time Chelsea lost three home London derbies in a row against the same opposition in the top-flight was vs Arsenal in April 1974.
Antonio Conte's side have lost four of their last five Premier League games; their previous four defeats in the competition came over a run of 30 matches.
Willian has had a hand in 16 goals in his last 17 starts for Chelsea in all competitions (11 goals, 5 assists).
Chelsea could be virtually out of the race for the top four this weekend. It's all about timing for Palace. The Chelsea players will have one eye on Barcelona next week, and Palace have been unlucky recently.
They have played two of the top teams, and lost in the last minute in both of them. Those two points - more, when you look at the United game - could have made a big difference. I think without Wilfried Zaha they really struggle, so I can't look beyond Chelsea.
PAUL PREDICTS: 2-0 (9/2 with SkyBet)