This weekend sees Crystal Palace’s run of games against top five opposition come to an end as they prepare to face Chelsea in an effort to climb out of the relegation zone.
After admirable performances against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, Roy Hodgson looks to be going into the clash with confidence despite his side losing their last three games.
This confidence may also be apparent as Palace could see the return of key man Wilfried Zaha.
On the fan favourite’s race to fitness, Hodgson said:
“He was able to join in with the team today for the first time in a modified session which is enormous progress with him so far ahead of schedule.
“We’re very happy that his progress has been as fast as its been, but we have to be careful because it was a serious injury and in normal circumstances you wouldn’t expect him to be back this quickly.”
The tricky winger has been out of action since the beginning of February since picking up a knee injury against Newcastle keeping him out of the Eagles’ three successive losses.
With his absence coinciding with those three losses as well as the fact that he bagged the winner when the sides met at Selhurst Park back in October, a return could help Palace return to winning ways.
Even though Hodgson is aware of this, he’s wary of the dangers of bringing the Ivorian back too quickly:
“All teams are reliant on their decisive players or ‘MVP’s so we’ve missed him as every team would but there’s always a risk that you’re going to push for him to come back earlier than he should and that’s the balance I’ve got to get right.” he said.
With the South East London side’s previous win over Chelsea, along with the Blues’ poor recent form, many believe this gives them reason to go into the match with confidence.
Recently under Antonio Conte, Chelsea have looked underwhelming and have failed to win in their last three games. Additionally, Palace have managed to come up on top in three of the sides’ last five meetings with two of these wins coming at Stamford Bridge.
Despite having confidence in his side ahead of the game, the Palace boss made the point not to forget who this Chelsea team are, saying:
“Normally when you come up against a team that isn’t having the best of times that could be the most dangerous time to face them, especially because Chelsea are the champions of England.”
Looking at how to make Crystal Palace’s recent history at the Bridge repeat itself, Hodgson said:
“Everything is going to be focused on performance, attitude and linked to our desire to get out of this situation and we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that if we get a positive result at Stamford Bridge, suddenly everything is ‘hunky dory’ because that can be very dangerous.
“I’ve said from the start that this is a battle that will go very close to the end of the season and if you’re going to be jubilant every time you get to 17th and devastated at 18th you’re going to have a rollercoaster.”
With that said, Palace need to turn their good performances against teams like Tottenham and Manchester United into points or things can begin to look very ugly. So, with or without Zaha, at least a point is needed from this weekend’s short trip to Chelsea.