Relentless positivity has grown more tiresome and futile with every passing week. Every examination of the reasons Crystal Palace should be optimistic heading into a game has been met with 0 points and, largely speaking, uninspiring performances. We shouldn’t go into a match against the Champions expecting much, anything but conceding 4 or 5 goals would be an improvement on recent results, let’s be frank.
It would be easy to look at this game and mentally write it off, it’s Chelsea – if we don’t remain in the Premier League beyond May then we’re unlikely to look back on this game and wonder “what if”, it’ll be other results which seal our fate. That is all true, but I think this game represents much more for Crystal Palace.
The reason is that Saturday afternoon signals the start of our season, at least that’s how we must treat it. At this moment in time we have 31 games of the season remaining, 31 games in which to accrue the 30-something points that will ensure our continued Premier League status. We must be looking at this game to set the tone for those remaining games, if not through the result then through the performance.
On the performance note, Saturday will demonstrate the kind of strides that Roy Hodgson and his team have been able to drill into the squad over the international break. I expect to see discipline, I expect to see organisation and I expect to see back-breaking work across the field – these are the first steps that Roy will want to see against Chelsea. If they beat us with quality, so be it, but they cannot beat us because we roll over and allow them to.
Before the international break Roy Hodgson looked and sounded drained. 9 goals without reply within a week does that to a man, but it wasn’t encouraging to see the man tasked with turning this write-off of a start to the season around looking so deflated. It is not an easy predicament he finds himself in, not only are we stone dead last but injuries to key players haven’t done him, or indeed Frank de Boer, any favours.
Christian Benteke is not even close to being ready, so Roy will have a big decision on who to start furthest forward for a start. Wilfried Zaha is back in training, but I’d be surprised to see him feature for the entire game, if at all, even if he is a better option that Bakary Sako in attack. Things hardly get any better when you add Ruben Loftus-Cheek to the list of players that will be absent, as he cannot face his parent club. The only positive news is that Fosu-Mensah will again be available while Scott Dann and James Tomkins could also feature.
It would be wrong to suggest that the Chelsea fixture is in some way “make or break”, however it is no overstatement to say that it could prove to be one of the most important games of the season. Before the Burnley game a few weeks ago I said that we must begin to see the process of change in the performance, that there needed to be some evidence of progression. The same is absolutely true here.
I only hope we see some, otherwise we’re in deep trouble.