Written by Chad Nagel for Soccer Betting News. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Crystal Palace v Chelsea | Sunday 3 January | Selhurst Park | 15:30
Chelsea will look to start the new year on a high when they travel to Selhurst Park to take on an injury-hit Crystal Palace side on Sunday. The Eagles were surprise 2-1 winners in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge in August. However, the last time they met at Selhurst Park, Chelsea ran out 2-1 victors.
To Win (90 Mins)
Crystal Palace 26/10
Crystal Palace come into the match unbeaten in six with three draws including back-to-back stalemates against Bournemouth and more recently Swansea. The Eagles will be hoping to return to winning ways in their bid to get into the top four.
Alan Pardew has done a magnificent job since taking over at Crystal Palace. When the Englishman took over, Palace were in the bottom three, but by the end of the season, he had guided them to 10th. He has quickly overhauled the entire culture of the club, from one that was content to survive and avoid defeat to one that now sets out to win every game, both home and away. Along with Leicester City, Palace are exponents of this new approach from the league’s less fashionable clubs that now sees them playing without any fear. And already this season, it has helped them secure nine wins, including victories over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Liverpool at Anfield.
For a team set up to take risks and attack with such zeal, it is essential Palace are well-protected at the back. In Joel Ward, Damien Delaney, Scott Dann — who has so far been strangely overlooked by England — and Pape Souare, Palace boast the second-best defensive record in the Premier League – along with Manchester United – behind only Tottenham.
Pardew’s side will lack firepower up front with the duo of Yannick Bolasie and Connor Wickham both sidelined for at least a month while Dwight Gayle and Bakary Sako are fitness doubts. Last season’s Championship Player of the Year Patrick Bamford has returned to Chelsea after terminating his loan deal after a lack of game time. Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha will provide a constant threat on the wing and pester Chelsea’s fullbacks with excessive pace, quick feet, brilliant creativity and an eye for goal.
The surprise arrival of Yohan Cabaye from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer has given this Palace side a greater attacking threat; with him in the centre of midfield, the Eagles increasingly look for a forward pass rather than a sideways pass. Cabaye can provide great penetration going forward, as well as excellent distribution. The French playmaker offers a threat in the final third as he has the ability to score goals and create opportunities for his team-mates. He could cause Chelsea’s defence plenty of problems this weekend as he drifts between the lines which may cause the opposition to leave space unattended.
Chelsea are unbeaten since the second coming of Guus Hiddink, but the Dutchman is still searching for his first victory of the campaign. In his first game in charge, Chelsea drew 2-2 at home to an in-form Watford side, but the Premier League champions outplayed the Hornets and would have taken maximum points had Oscar not scuffed his penalty.
In their goalless draw at Manchester United last Monday, the Blues looked like a real team who were solid defensively and dangerous on the counter-attack. It is now evident that certain players didn’t give 100 % for Jose Mourinho. Chelsea will be hoping to secure a vital victory over Palace this weekend and the return of Diego Costa should give them the confidence to do so.
Costa returns to the side after serving his one-match suspension against Manchester United last Monday. The Brazilian-born Spain international scored both of his side’s goals against Watford on Boxing Day, extending his league total this season to five. Powerful and strong, Costa can bully defenders and then use his pace when a change is required. Incredibly competitive, his passion and will to win is second to none and his finishing is of the highest class.
The standout player for the Blues this season is Brazilian winger Willian. While Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Costa and co. have all seen their form fluctuate or drop off completely, Willian has been consistently brilliant. He is a dynamic attacker, who likes to dribble with the ball and has the ability to weave in and out of challenges with his pace and agility. This season, he has even added a bit of final product to his game as well, scoring plenty of free kicks, taking excellent set pieces, and providing gorgeous assists.
Oscar is another key player capable of providing that moment of magic as he possesses excellent vision, sure passing ability and a fine first touch. His technical brilliance allows him to do wonders with the ball at his feet, not only find space but also create the space out of nowhere. Hazard will be hoping to start the new year off with a bang and fire Chelsea to victory. The Belgian winger has been struggling to find his form of last season which saw him rightfully claim the PFA Player of the Year award. Hazard brings the magic that can win matches in one action and has the flair and an artist's touch. He has a great burst of pace, quick feet, and very good agility, all of which allow him to breeze past opposition defenders. When he’s in the mood, few defences can live with his movement, pace and blurring array of tricks. Pedro brings creativity and invention and he could be a nuisance for Pardew’s men on Sunday. His incredible speed allows him to swiftly get down the field and be a thorn for the opposite defenders and his quick feet give him the dubiousness to weave throughout the defence and get himself into goalscoring opportunities.
Verdict: Chelsea 26/10
Chelsea have looked impressive of late and the return of Costa gives them a massive boost up front. Crystal Palace are struggling to find the net with back-to-back draws and will be without the influential pair of Bolasie and Wickham. It should still be a tight affair, but the Blues should prove too strong here.
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