Chelsea could finally secure what seems to have been theirs for the last two months when they host Crystal Palace on Sunday. All it takes is three more points for the team from Stamford Bridge to claim the club’s fifth league championship and first since 2010. In order to find the last time that Chelsea lost in league play, you have to go back all the way to New Year’s Day when they suffered a shock 5-3 defeat to Harry Kane’s Tottenham. Since then the league leaders have gone 14 straight matches without their fans tasting defeat and it will take a master class managerial performance from Alan Pardew to give Crystal Palace a fighting chance this weekend.
Leading the way for the Blues is the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard. The Belgian immediately garners the attention of every player on the pitch when he steps onto the field. With the ball, Hazard is always capable of turning the game on its head with his pace, flair and knack for scoring goals. From the wing, the Belgian has notched 13 goals (good enough for the 7th highest tally in the league, and he’s also played provider recording eight assists. Even when he doesn’t have the ball, the attention that Hazard gets from opposing defenders creates space for players like Cesc Fabregas, Oscar and Ramires to operate in the midfield and create attacks for the Blues. Hazard will surely be a thorn in the side of Crystal Palace all 90 minutes and he may even score the goal that seals the title for Chelsea.
You can’t win a title without a solid defense. Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic and sometimes boring style of play has resulted in Chelsea owning the second-best defensive record in the league. After 34 games, the London club has only allowed 27 goals (one behind Southampton for best in the league). The play of veteran players like Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry have provided Thibault Courtois with an almost impenetrable backline in front of him and if Palace somehow gets a shot against the big Belgian keeper, their chances of scoring are still slim-to-none at best. In his first year with Chelsea, Courtois has established himself as one of the best, if not the best, keeper in the entire league and his 11 clean sheets have gone a long way in solidifying Chelsea’s dominant position. Sunday will likely be a pretty boring match for the Belgian but he must be on alert for the rare chance that Palace are capable of creating.
Crystal Palace are in the unenviable position of being possibly the last team standing in between Jose Mourinho and a title. After clearing the relegation zone, Palace seem destined for a mid-table finish and the remaining four games in the season are mostly just for pride. Alan Pardew’s side is coming off of two straight defeats to teams that are currently below them in the table. The most worrying of those performances came in a 2-0 defeat to relegation-threatened Hull City. The momentum from their amazing 2-1 upset of Manchester City four weeks ago seems to have finally worn off and Palace appear ill-equipped to handle to pure quality that Chelsea possess.
In the reverse fixture, Chelsea traveled to Selhurst Park and manhandled Palace to a 2-1 defeat. A trip to Stamford Bridge will see Palace face an even more difficult Chelsea side, oh and did I mention that Chelsea hasn’t lost at home this entire season? Other than three draws, Stamford Bridge has witnessed 13 victories for the Blues. Palace will have to replicate the determined play of Burnley who managed a 1-1 draw at the Bridge if they have any hope of delaying Chelsea’s title celebrations.
Even though it pains me to write this, I predict that Chelsea take care of business on Sunday and secure the title. A magnificent display from Eden Hazard will see the Blues claim a dominant 3-0 victory and the official race for second place will start and Drew can celebrate the first Chelsea title in five years.