It’s the start of a crucial week for Chelsea as they welcome relegation-threatened Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening.
Antonio Conte’s men will be looking to get back to winning ways following back-to-back defeats in the Premier League against Manchester City and Manchester United.
They currently sit five points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham in the table and they need to cut the gap on their London rivals with nine matches of the season remaining.
Ahead of their tricky test against Palace, here are five things to look out for at Stamford Bridge:
#1 Return of Kante
Chelsea’s energetic midfielder missed the defeat at Manchester City after he fainted at the club’s training ground two days prior to the game. Kante has been given the all-clear by the doctors and will be expected to return to the starting XI. Danny Drinkwater has partnered him in the league in recent weeks but the experienced Cesc Fabregas will also be pushing for a starting spot.
#2 Will Conte show faith in Giroud?
It is fair to say that Conte is struggling to come up with a solution to Chelsea’s forward line problems. At times, Eden Hazard has been used as a false number nine or Alvaro Morata has started in that position. However, the latter has seriously struggled for form which has given his manager a number of unwanted headaches. One man he is yet to select in the starting line-up in the league is January signing Olivier Giroud. If Conte doesn’t select the Frenchman in the starting XI against Palace at the weekend then questions will be raised about whether Giroud was Conte’s signing in the first place.
#3 Performance needed ahead of Barcelona showdown
Chelsea were criticised for the manner in which they performed against Manchester City last weekend and eyes will be firmly on how they set-up at home to Palace. With Conte’s side sliding away from the top four and a trip to Barcelona beckoning, a quality performance and a positive result is desperately needed against Palace. If things don’t go to plan then they will enter that crucial second leg at the Nou Camp pretty deflated and under pressure from their supporters to produce the goods.
#4 Change in defence?
With the big game against Barcelona in the Champions League coming up in midweek, added with Chelsea’s recent poor run of results, it wouldn’t surprise many if Conte made a number of changes to his side, particularly his defence. The experienced Gary Cahill could come into the back three, but many Chelsea supporters will feel his performances this season don’t merit a starting berth. Added with that, a lot is asked of the club’s wing-backs, so Conte could be persuaded to bring in the likes of Emerson or Davide Zappacosta in their respective positions.
#5 Palace’s counter-attacking threat
Last season, Palace pulled off a brilliant win at the Bridge under Sam Allardyce which helped them survive relegation in the Premier League. Once again, they find themselves in a similar position, only this time under the stewardship of Roy Hodgson. Their star man Wilfred Zaha is still sidelined with an injury, but they will still be looking to use their counter-attacking threat to grab all three points against their London rivals.