Weblog: The football punter

Chelsea entertainers all set to outscore Palace

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Crystal Palace started their daunting run of four consecutive Premier League matches against big-six teams with a 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal last Sunday but the markets do not rate their chances of upsetting Chelsea, who are unbeaten in 15 games since losing to Manchester City in the Community Shield.

A Palace success can be backed at double-figure quotes while Chelsea are long odds-on to register their eighth league win of the campaign.

The lack of confidence in Palace seems to overlook their impressive recent record at Stamford Bridge.

The Eagles have registered victories on two of their last three visits, including a remarkable 2-1 success over Antonio Conte's title-winning team in April 2017.

Wilfried Zaha was their match-winner that day – scoring a ninth-minute opener and laying on a second for Christian Benteke just 91 seconds later – and is the man Eagles fans are relying on to deliver another shock result.

Zaha is Palace's top scorer with three goals and has won them penalties in each of their last two games.

The Ivory Coast international is Palace's main hope of exposing a Chelsea defence which looks far from watertight.

Maurizio Sarri's side rode their luck when winning 3-2 at home to Derby in Wednesday's EFL Cup fourth-round tie and the return of their first-choice defence might not be enough to stifle Palace.

Chelsea are favouring an attacking style of play, with midfielder N'Golo Kante pushed further forward than last season, but it often leaves their defence exposed to counter-attacks and that will be something wily Palace manager Roy Hodgson has looked at.

Hodgson's problem is keeping a clean sheet at the other end.

Palace haven't been defending badly and their tally of 13 goals conceded is the joint-lowest among bottom-half teams.

But they have looked vulnerable against quality opposition – conceding twice at home to Liverpool and Arsenal – and are likely to have the misfortune of facing a Chelsea side reinforced by the return of Eden Hazard after a back injury.

Chelsea won 4-0 without their mercurial Belgian at Burnley last Sunday but Sarri is fully aware of the importance of his star man and is giving him every opportunity to feature in some capacity.

Hazard's short spell on the sidelines may have worked in Chelsea's favour, allowing space for other players to take on more responsibility.

Alvaro Morata will be feeling more confident after scoring at Burnley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek capped off his first league appearance in eight weeks with an injury-time strike.

Chelsea's squad depth could be key to helping them last the course in the title race yet the Blues are still going under the radar and most punters do not consider them a serious threat to Liverpool and Manchester City.

All Sarri's men can do is to keep churning out results until those perceptions are changed.

They should have few problems collecting another three points this weekend but Palace, with the considerable help of Zaha, can gain a small measure of consolation in an entertaining game.

Chelsea to win and both teams to score

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Match in Focus


Charlton v Sunderland

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Sunderland drew 20 of their 48 league and playoff games this season.
Expert verdict
After missing out on automatic promotion and scraping past Portsmouth, nerves could set in for Sunderland at Wembley. But they are resolute defensively and it could take time for Charlton, who have already been to the national stadium and lost once this year, to wear them down.