Chelsea will be seeking to continue their excellent start to the Premier League season on Sunday when they host London rivals Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues advanced in the Carabao Cup against Derby County on Wednesday, and in their last top-flight outing, they were impressive in the way they dismantled Burnley 4-0.
Maurizio Sarri will be delighted with the manner in which his team have performed despite the recent injury to Eden Hazard.
Palace are big underdogs for this one and are finding wins tough to come by in the early stages of 2018-19. Manager Roy Hodgson will at least feel buoyed by the performance in the 2-2 draw against Arsenal last weekend.
With Hazard below his best against Manchester United and absent for the clash with Burnley due to a back problem, Chelsea needed a new talisman to emerge in those fixtures. Few would’ve anticipated Ross Barkley to be that player.
The former Everton man endured a challenging first season with the Blues, but a run of games recently has brought the best from him, and suddenly he’s become a first-team regular under Sarri.
Crucially for Chelsea, it’s likely Hazard will be back in action again this weekend following his recent layoff. Blues assistant manager Gianfranco Zola said the Belgium star “is looking quite good for the weekend” earlier in the week, per Rory O’Callaghan of Sky Sports.
Should Hazard line up, the battle down Chelsea’s left flank and Palace’s right will most likely be vital in determining how this game goes. After all, Hazard has been mesmeric at times this season and is still the joint top-scorer in the Premier League with seven goals to his name.
However, in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, he will be up against a pretty formidable right-back. The 20-year-old has been a force of nature in defence for the Eagles:
For Palace, there were positives last weekend against Arsenal, as they dug in late on to grab a point after seeing a lead slip away.
Following the fixture, much of the talk has been about Wilfried Zaha, who was deemed to have been felled for Palace’s second penalty on the day, although there were some suggestions he went down easily.
Zaha posted on his Instagram Story on Tuesday that he received racist abuse and death threats online after the match, per the Press Association (h/t the Guardian).
Palace can be dangerous away from home. They have the capability to defend well for long spells, and Zaha provides an exceptional outlet when the game does become stretched.
Even so, Chelsea are unlikely to lose patience or lose their shape, meaning they will keep the visitors penned in in their own final third. With Hazard back and Barkley in brilliant form, they will eventually do enough to get through and keep the pressure on at the summit of the table.