Graham Potter has been left with no easy task in selecting his Chelsea starting lineup to face Crystal Palace having had a limited time to bond and mix with his squad in the build-up. The postponement of games against Fulham and Liverpool allowed some time for getting acquainted and a behind-closed-doors game against Brighton for the Blues’ head coach to assess those players who had not featured against Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League.
There’s no doubting that the international break came at an inopportune moment for the new coaching staff, with the logistics of players returning perhaps entering his consideration for their fitness to play at Selhurst Park, as much as their ability. Potter however, has seen his options cut via illness and injury with the likes of N’Golo Kante and Kepa Arrizabalaga not yet ready to take to the pitch.
Potter noted in his press conference: “They’re absolutely fine in terms of coming through their rehab stages. NG has just been on the grass with the team but not full training. Eddie is a bit further on but hasn’t had enough to be involved at the weekend really. Maybe next week for him. A bit of illness for Marc Cucurella and Carney, apart from that everybody is fit.”
In his first match in charge, Potter opted for a back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Marc Cucurella against Salzburg but is unlikely to go with the same options again. Refreshingly Silva, last played in Paris on Tuesday, instead of South America so he will likely lead the back three but with Cucurella’s ailment slowing his return to Cobham and the chance for Wilfried Zaha to exploit Azpilicueta, it could signal a chance for other options.
That could mean the pace of Trevoh Chalobah and Wesley Fofana is preferred to Kalidou Koulibaly, while Reece James may be as close to a guarantee as you can get in the Chelsea XI. Ben Chilwell will hope to start on the left having come through 90 minutes in a behind-closed-doors match ahead of the international break, but Raheem Sterling on that flank against Salzburg was a real success so Potter could be tempted to maintain that.
Otherwise, the team may be pretty similar to what Potter utilised in the Champions League. Ruben Loftus-Cheek will have attempted to persuade the 47-year-old head coach otherwise with his earlier return in comparison to his international teammates but Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic will be favourites to start.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be even closer to full fitness and having spent time with Potter since the beginning of the week should maintain his place up front ahead of Armando Broja, and will likely be joined by Kai Havertz. He forgot his Chelsea struggles on international duty to produce a brace against England, including an impressive strike from outside of the box.
Chelsea predicted XI: Kepa; Chalobah, Silva, Fofana; James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Mount, Sterling; Havertz, Aubameyang.