Maurizio Sarri will want to build on his team’s Boxing Day win at Watford. Like Palace, Watford away was an accident waiting to happen, but Chelsea managed to somehow engineer a victory when not at their best. They’ll need to show that same resilience and endeavour Sunday lunchtime.
Ahead of the game, injuries to Pedro and Andreas Christensen will see them miss out. Callum Hudson-Odoi, like Pedro, picked up a minor hamstring injury against Watford and is unlikely to start – like he would have anyway. Alvaro Morata should be back on the bench after recovering from the knee injury he picked up in the Europa League game against MOL Vidi.
Maurizio Sarri’s first six months in charge has allowed him to work out his preferred starting XI. From a Premier League point of view it’s set in stone and seldom delivers much in the way of surprises. Roy Hodgson will be comfortable in being able to predict who will start and how the opposition will likely play. From a blue point of view, it will be about sticking to the plan and tough-ing the result out. The predicted starting XI goes like this,
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga will literally be the first name on the team sheet. Since his move in the summer, he’s very much taken on the role so brought into disrepute by his predecessor. He’s done very little wrong and looks like he here for the long haul.
Defence – Marcos Alonso has come under increasing pressure from Chelsea fans this season. There has been a clamour for Emerson to get more game time at left back but Sarri knows what he likes and likes what he knows. If nothing else Alonso is a dead-ball specialist. The David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger pairing have become a staple of Sarri’s starting XI. This game is unlikely to see either benched given Christensen’s injury, Gary Cahill’s old-age and Ethan Ampadu’s youthfulness. Cesar Azpilicueta captains the side and like the other three is an ever-present. He has slowly come to terms with his return to right back under the new Italian boss. His ability to read the game in the face of, the inevitable, absence of Luiz and/or Alonso is an essential attribute to the backline.
Midfield – Jorginho is another automatic pick, as is N’golo Kante. Whether they are playing in their optimal positions at the moment is a matter of much debate, Sarri believes they are and that’s all that matters. The third midfield position is one of the few in the eleven that is interchangeable. Mateo Kovacic is in the box seat but Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Ross Barkley could easily slot in. Personally, I’d like to see Loftus-Cheek play against the team he spent last season on loan at.
Attack – The front three have one certainty – Eden Hazard. Whether in his preferred number 10 slot or Sarri’s favoured false 9 position, he starts. You could almost put Willian in that same bracket, he start’s most games, and as a result, attracts more negative attention on social media than most. That leaves only one question – false number nine or real number nine. The absence of Pedro effectively makes the decision for Sarri. With Alvaro Morata possibly leaving the club in January, Sarri may not want to jeopardise the Gonzalo Higuain swap deal through Morata aggravating his injury. Hazard gets to play in his position of choice and Olivier Giroud should get the nod that will give the wide men a decent target. Hazard and Willian will benefit with the opportunity of picking up the second ball.
Written by Kevin Peacock