2018-19 EPL Match Day 11 Preview — Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

After a curiously ragged Carabao Cup victory, Chelsea look to continue their unbeaten ways Sunday when they host Crystal Palace in a London derby at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues (7-3-0) have yet to lose under first-year manager Maurizio Sarri, also winning three Europa League matches and two in the Carabao Cup following a 3-2 victory Wednesday over former Chelsea star-turned coach Frank Lampard and Derby County – who used a pair of Chelsea players on loan after consent from the top-flight side.

Chelsea won despite scoring just one goal themselves as Derby gifted the Pensioners a pair of own goals inside the opening half-hour – goals they canceled out with quick responses on both occasions.

Cesc Fabregas scored what proved to be the match-winner in the 41st minute as Chelsea claimed a spot in the round of eight opposite Bournemouth. While some of the defensive issues can be chalked up to swapping out his entire back line as part of eight changes from their 4-0 waxing of Burnley last weekend, Sarri wants things fixed now before the problems grow.

“In the last match I have to say Derby played a very good match,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “We played well in the offensive phase, but a lot of mistakes in the defensive phase. It’s clear we need to improve.

“I am used to having problems like this in the first months. In Burnley I saw a very good performance in the defensive phase. Three days after I saw a lot of mistakes. It means we are a not a continuously solid team at the moment. It’s dangerous.”

With a win or draw, Sarri would match Frank Clark’s Premier League record for an unbeaten start. Clark opened 8-3-0 with a promoted Nottingham Forest side in 1994-95 en route to a third-place finish.

One issue Sarri must contend with is the status of star winger Eden Hazard. The Belgium international did not play against Burnley due to a back injury, and Sarri revealed he practiced for the first time in two weeks in training ahead of this match. The gaffer said Hazard would be “able to play for 40, 45 minutes,” which implies he would be on the bench to start this game and be called upon if needed.

That likely means Willian will switch flanks to take Hazard’s spot on the left, with Pedro expected to return after lasting just a half-hour against Burnley due to stomach issues. With Ross Barkley in splendid form – he has three goals and two assists in his last four matches – he likely gets the nod at left midfield over Mateo Kovacic.

Fellow midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace, likely will be in the mix for the 18 again, but also of note Friday was Sarri ruling out a potential loan for the England international in the January window, noting “Ruben in October played four matches out of five. I think at the moment the situation is not for a loan of course. He has improved, but he needs to improve more from the tactical point of view.”

Crystal Palace (2-2-6) have sorely missed Loftus-Cheek’s industry through the midfield as they have now gone 395 minutes without a goal in the run of play after losing 1-0 at Championship side Middlesbrough – coached by one-time Palace boss Tony Pulis — on Wednesday in the round of 16 in the Carabao Cup.

Roy Hodgson made eight changes to the side that battled to a 2-2 draw versus Arsenal last weekend, getting both goals from the spot via Luka Milivojevic, but the decision to hold out Wilfried Zaha to rest ahead of this match backfired as the Eagles again were grounded in attack.

“Of course it’s a missed opportunity,” Hodgson told The Times while lamenting his side’s poor first half, “but you have to use these competitions. You have a squad of players and you have to give them the chance to play. A lot of them needed a game and none of them let me down at all.”

In addition to holding out Zaha, midfielders James McArthur and Cheikou Kouyate also did not make the trip to Middlesbrough to recover from niggling injuries. Forward Connor Wickham, however, has been ruled out with a thigh injury a fortnight after making his first league appearance in nearly two seasons with a late runout against Everton.

Palace’s last goal in the run of play came from left back Patrick Van Aanholt in their 2-1 loss at Bournemouth on Oct. 1. Zaha has not scored in five league matches dating to his winner versus Huddersfield Town on Sept. 15.

Though Loftus-Cheek could not play against his parent club last season per loan rules, Crystal Palace did split the two matches that finished with 2-1 scorelines. In the fixture at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea got their goals seven minutes apart through Willian and an own goal from Palace defender Martin Kelly.

Van Aanholt pulled one back at the death for the Eagles, who won in their previous two visits to west London. Chelsea are 12-2-4 versus Palace in the Premier League era, including a 6-1-2 mark at home.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Hazard’s iffy status has not deterred oddsmakers from making Chelsea prohibitive favourites with 2/7 odds. The Blues have 9/2 odds to claim at least one point from this contest, while Palace are 10/1 underdogs to claim a third win in four seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea are better than even money to win with a final of more than 2.5 goals at 4/5, while the Pensioners are also a 14/5 pick to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. There are 6/1 odds on a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while the Eagles are 18/1 to win with more than 2.5 goals and 22/1 to post a clean sheet while winning by one or two.

Hazard still leads the line for first goal-scorers despite his status, checking in at 16/5 odds. Chelsea’s alternating strikers — Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud — are directly behind the Belgian at 10/3. Wingers Pedro and Willian are 5/1 picks to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with Barkley a 6/1 selection and Loftus-Cheek 13/2 to score against the team he was loaned out to last term. Zaha is Palace’s top choice at 12/1 for a 0-1 shock scoreline, while Alexander Sorloth and Jordan Ayew are both 16/1.

Hazard is better than even money to score during the match, getting 10/11 odds, and Pedro and Willian are both 6/4 picks to put one past Wayne Hennessey. Morata and Giroud are even money to bag one for Chelsea, while Zaha has 10/3 odds to break his duck for Crystal Palace. As Palace’s penalty taker, Milivojevic offers an intriguing 7/1 return.

PREDICTION

There are two areas of intrigue for this match. One is whether Sarri starts Hazard and tries to put the game to bed early, and the second being whether the Italian has a sentimental streak and starts Loftus-Cheek over Barkley and/or Kovacic in left midfield against his former team. Given his comments about Loftus-Cheek when asked about the possibility of a January loan, it does not seem likely, but since nearly everything Sarri has touched has turned to gold thus far, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

It would be surprising to see Hazard in the first XI given he just returned to practice this week after missing two weeks’ worth. Sarri has enough attacking options at his disposal that he has the luxury of bringing the Belgium international off the bench, but since Chelsea are also all but assured of reaching the Europa League knockout round, he can also give Hazard another week off if his side take care of business in the first hour of this contest.

With Olivier Giroud held out of the Derby County match due to fatigue, it would not be surprising to see him get the start over Morata, though the Spaniard has the better form of the two pure strikers. Given Palace play a deep back four, Giroud’s hold-up and knock-down abilities make the France international a better tactical choice for Sarri as Giroud again looks for his first goal of the season.

In their two matches against “Big Six” sides, Palace held their own in a 2-0 loss to Liverpool that was closer than the scoreline indicates and last weekend’s 2-2 draw versus Arsenal. Both matches, though, came at home, and while Hodgson’s team have gotten better results outside Selhurst Park than in it this campaign, Palace’s lack of form offensively coupled with a decided disadvantage in talent in the midfield means Chelsea should stroll to three points in this contest.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 3, Crystal Palace 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)
Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)

Looking for back-to-back victories for the first time this season, Wilfried Zaha and Crystal Palace look to extend the miseries of Newcastle United on Saturday when they host Rafa Benitez’s side at Selhurst Park.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Zaha is instrumental in any success the Eagles (2-0-3) have had to this point. Much has been made of the fact Palace have lost their last 11 games without the striker dating back to last term after their 2-0 defeat to Southampton a fortnight ago, but Roy Hodgson’s team has also leaned heavily on the Ivory Coast international in the early going.

Zaha has scored three of Crystal Palace’s four goals in league play, and his stellar individual effort that led to a goal in the 38th minute lifted the Eagles to their 1-0 victory at Huddersfield Town last weekend. With that talent, though, comes defenders willing to do whatever it takes to stop Zaha from getting through to goal.

The Palace striker is tied for second in the Premier League with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard with 14 fouls suffered. In the win over Huddersfield, Zaha picked up his third yellow card of the young season before his goal responding to a challenge by Florent Hadergjonaj. After the match, Zaha told BBC’s Match of the Day: “I feel like before anyone gets a red I’d have to get my leg broken or something. That’s why I lose my head. Why am I getting different treatment from other players?

“It makes you not want to go on a run because someone will come through the back of you, and it doesn’t allow you to express yourself.”

Zaha was referring to an incident in Palace’s 2-1 loss at Watford in which Hornets midfielder Etienne Capoue was fortunate not to be sent off on a poor challenge from behind. The team has filed a complaint to the league about their striker not getting the benefit of the doubt for some calls, and Hodgson is doing what he can to keep his forward level-headed.

“He’s getting better and better at that,” the gaffer told Palace’s official website. “He’s got to come to terms with that he’s the type of player that is so good at running with the ball, and we see it with Manchester City and Liverpool players who are quick and good at running with the ball and get fouled.

“Unfortunately, Wilf has a strong sense of justice and doesn’t think that people should treat him that unfairly, but he’s learning quickly.”

Hodgson is expected to keep Jordan Ayew up as part of a 4-3-3 formation that is a slight variance of his traditional 4-4-2. Christian Benteke is expected to miss his second straight league contest with a knee injury. The Belgium international has scored only three goals for Palace since the start of last season after bagging 15 in 2016-17.

Newcastle United (0-1-4), meanwhile, arrive at Selhurst Park ahead of only Burnley on goal difference and happy to be done with a murderous stretch of opening fixtures that saw them claim only a point in a draw against fellow winless side Cardiff City. The losses read off like a list of who’s who among the Premier League: Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, and the hope in Tyneside is the Magpies can finally kick on with their season and move out of the bottom three while playing similar-calibre teams.

“We know it’s very important,” defender Federico Fernandez told Newcastle’s official website. “We have a couple of games against teams who are maybe middle of the table now. It’s no excuse, but in these five games we knew it would be very difficult, against top teams.

“But we’ve approached them well, we’ve played like a team, but we didn’t take anything. Now we need to start taking points, because that’s what we need.

Newcastle have lost four on the trot in all competitions, and their gauntlet ended with a third consecutive 2-1 league loss last weekend at home versus Arsenal. While the Magpies did not bunker and put five in the back like they did in defeats to champions Manchester City and unbeaten Chelsea, they failed to unlock a creaky Arsenal defence until defender Ciaran Clark scored in second-half stoppage time.

One reason for the lack of offence was the absence of playmaker Jonjo Shelvey, who missed his second straight match due to a thigh injury and is questionable for this game. Losing defender and talisman Jamaal Lascelles to an ankle injury did the Magpies no favours either as both Arsenal goals came after he was replaced by Clark at halftime.

Salomon Rondon is expected to be restored to the starting XI after being an unused substitute last weekend. The Venezuela international was second choice to Joselu after his late return from international duty despite contributing an assist in Newcastle’s loss to Manchester City and bagging a brace in a friendly versus Panama.

“We have to get the three points,” Rondon said. “I think, in my opinion, you have to get just one win to get the confidence back. We know it’s a difficult game for us away at Palace, but we have to improve and do our best.

“Everyone knows, with Crystal Palace, how they play. They have quality players, but we have to impose our game and be efficient when we create chances and score goals.”

The teams played to a 1-1 draw in last season’s corresponding fixture as Luka Milivojevic’s penalty 10 minutes after the restart canceled out a first-half goal by Mohamed Diame. Newcastle have taken points in 12 of the 14 previous Premier League clashes (8-4-2) between the sides.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Palace are comfortable favourites at 23/20 odds, with Newcastle United checking in at 5/2 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points is slightly better than a Magpies victory at 11/5.

A Palace win with three or more goals is the leading option at 27/10 odds, closely followed by a draw and under 2.5 goals (29/10). Oddsmakers also believe in Palace’s defence or the lack of Newcastle’s offence as an Eagles win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline is right behind a draw with 10/3 odds. Rafa Benitez’s side are 5/1 to win the match with three or more goals and 11/2 with fewer.

Zaha is an expected favourite for first-goal honours at 5/1, but surprisingly joining him atop the list is Benteke despite his questionable status. Ayew and Palace reserve striker Alexander Sorloth are joint-third at 11/2, with Newcastle’s duo of Rondon and Joselu next in line at 13/2 to open the scoring.

Zaha edges out Benteke for any-time goal-scoring at 9/5 compared to the Belgium’s listing at 19/10. Ayew is listed at 2/1, while winger Andros Townsend returns an intriguing 16/5 payout. Joselu and Rondon are again drawn together, this time with 5/2 odds, with Matt Ritchie at 4/1 and Kenedy at 7/2.

PREDICTION

Everyone wants to talk about Newcastle’s daunting stretch to open the season, but now that it has come and gone, with one point to show for it (though they should have had three), the question now begs… now what?

Benitez did what he could to mitigate the damage and give the Magpies a chance to win three of those four games against last year’s top-six opponents (it is interesting to note the Arsenal game was the one where they fared the worst after moving back to the traditional four-man defence), but how do Newcastle kick on?

Rondon was a surprising omission versus the Gunners, and it is difficult to chalk it up simply to jet lag from North America because DeAndre Yedlin also played in the U.S. and made it back Thursday in time to play the full 90.

Palace have the in-form player of the moment in Zaha, and rage over lack of respect from the officials aside, he has to be the difference-maker for the Eagles to get going at home. Hodgson’s team has lost both their home games thus far, and they need Selhurst Park to be a cauldron to maintain at least a mid-table level.

The Ayew or Benteke debate will be one to watch, with Ayew deserving of at least one more start due to his industry at Huddersfield. If he can find a way to score, it takes some of the pressure off Zaha, though that is also something Andros Townsend should be looking to do.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: CRYSTAL PALACE 1, Newcastle United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview: Crystal Palace (1-0-0) vs. Liverpool (1-0-0)

Liverpool looked every bit the primary contender to prevent Manchester City from a second straight canter to a Premier League title in their season opener. The Reds look to sustain that momentum Monday at Selhurst Park versus Crystal Palace.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jurgen Klopp’s team swept aside West Ham United 4-0 at Anfield on Aug. 12, showing off their new signings and taking full advantage of an Irons squad dealing with chemistry issues with so many of their new players arriving so close to the transfer deadline.

Mohamed Salah looked ready to compete for a second consecutive Golden Boot by opening the scoring, and Sadio Mane contributed a brace on either side of halftime. Daniel Sturridge added the finishing touch with a goal just seconds after his introduction in the 88th minute.

The year-long wait for Naby Keita proved well worth it as he anchored a bustling midfield that included Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner, the latter of whom was filling in for England international Jordan Henderson as he rested following his run to the World Cup semifinals.

Alisson, who was a world-record signing at the keeper position until Chelsea’s late move for Kepa Arrizabalaga, was barely troubled in recording a clean sheet in his Liverpool debut, and Xherdan Shaqiri got his first taste of Anfield life with a late runout.

“Yes, the start was good but that’s already done, if you want,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website. “The feeling around the club is good (and) a big part of that are the performances and the results we got in the last few months. That’s what we have to do again and again and again.”

While there are no worries about the offence, the defence is not at full strength as Dejan Lovren is recovering from a pelvis injury he suffered with Liverpool and aggravated helping Croatia reach the World Cup final. Joe Gomez stepped in and formed an effective central defence tandem with Virgil Van Dijk, justifying the gaffer’s confidence in the 21-year-old.

“I was never in doubt about Joe and his ability to play at centre-half … now he’s fit and he’s a very good football player, he can play the position good,” Klopp said. “Together with Virgil, they have a very good understanding – on a personal level as well, that’s really cool.”

While Gomez and Van Dijk will again start, Klopp is expected to add Joel Matip to the bench since fellow central defender Ragnar Klavan left Friday for Italian Serie A side Cagliari.

This summer’s big outfield signing – midfielder Fabinho – likely will be with the reserves for a second straight match, but the Brasil international feels he is making the proper adjustments to a three-man midfield after serving as a part of a defensive midfield pairing with Monaco before his £39 million move.

“It’s a different playing style than at Monaco; there were two of us in midfield there and here at Liverpool there’s three,” he noted. “My midfield partners have given me guidance and assistance, as have the defence. I knew my role would change and I feel I’ve adapted well. You seek guidance and help from the players around you and that has worked really well up until now.”

Crystal Palace made sure there would be no repeat of last term’s historically ghastly start by opening their season with a 2-0 victory at promoted Fulham on Aug. 11. The Eagles, who started 2017-18 by losing their first seven matches while failing to score a goal in any of them, got goals from Jeffrey Schlupp and Wilfried Zaha on either side of halftime.

Roy Hodgson’s side was sharp on both sides of the ball – nine of their 10 shots were on target and keeper Wayne Hennessey made six saves for the clean sheet – as Palace took apart a side many expected to make a seamless transition to the top flight given their flowing style of football and aggressive spending in the summer transfer window.

“It’s always the aim to get a win on your first game and from that you gain confidence to go into the next game in a positive mindet,” said right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who assisted on Zaha’s goal, to Palace’s official website. “Wayne Hennessey was superb and I want to give credit to him for how he played to get us a clean sheet as well.”

Crystal Palace also went about securing a big piece of their offense during the week, extending Zaha’s contract at Selhurst Park through the 2022-23 season with a pay packet reportedly worth £130,000 per week. The Ivorian has 44 goals with the Eagles, and the 25-year-old had been a constant subject of speculation to jump to a bigger club in recent transfer windows.

“Wilf grew up a stone’s throw from Selhurst Park from the age of four, and has been with the club since he was 12,” club chairman Steve Parish said. “This agreement is yet another example of his lifelong commitment to the club, and our commitment to him. This is an amazing day for everyone here at Palace, our supporters and of course Wilf – and is richly deserved.”

Hodgson has a fully fit squad and likely will keep his same XI from the win over Fulham. With the staggering depth in midfield, Klopp can afford to hold out Henderson for a second straight match, but it is also possible the England international supplants Milner in the middle of the park.

Liverpool did the double over Crystal Palace last season, winning both contests by one goal. Mane scored in both contests, bagging the winner in a 1-0 victory at Anfield and the equaliser in a 2-1 triumph at Selhurst Park in which Salah secured all three points six minutes from time.

The Reds have won four on the trot in all competitions at Selhurst Park.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are heavy favourites at 4/9 odds to extend their winning streak at Selhurst Park to five matches, and Crystal Park are 6/1 underdogs. There are 7/2 odds for the teams to split the points.

Salah leads the way for first goal-scorers at 11/4 odds, firmly ahead of Sturridge (4/1), Roberto Firmino (9/2) and Mane (10/1). Zaha is the top option among Palace players, albeit at distant 9/1 odds.

Salah is better-than-even odds to score for the second time in as many matches at 8/11, while Mane — who has five goals in eight career matches versus Crystal Palace — offers a solid 8/5 return on any-time goal-scoring odds. Sturridge is slightly ahead of Firmino on the pecking order at 23/20 for Sturridge over 13/10 for the Brasilian.

Zaha is again the top Palace option at 13/5, with Christian Benteke close behind at 14/5.

Plenty of people are expecting at least three goals in this match as Liverpool are even money to win and go over 2.5 goals compared to 10/3 with a win and under 2.5 goals. For those picking a 2-2 draw or higher, the return is an intriguing 12/1.

PREDICTION

Both sides have something to prove — for Liverpool, this match gives them a chance to show they can carry that blistering form from last week to the road, while Crystal Palace are out to show their win at Fulham was no fluke and that they are a team with at least legitimate mid-table aspirations.

Expect Henderson to return to the starting XI at the expense of Milner, further strengthening an already-potent midfield. Klavan’s departure to Italy leaves Liverpool dangerously thin at centre back considering Matip and relative unknown Nathaniel Phillips are now the primary backups for at least the next few weeks while Lovren recovers from his pelvic injury.

The battle through the midfield will be pivotal for any chance Crystal Palace entertain in taking at least a point for this contest. Luka Milivojevic must find places to hold possession for the Eagles, who are adept at hitting on the counter, but will be playing from reactionary and defence-first positions for most of this contest.

One interesting thing of note is that Liverpool pumped in 29 crosses against West Ham, which means they got forward fairly easily on the flanks to create scoring chances. Both left backs — Andrew Robertson and Patrick van Aanholt — are going to be challenged to avoid being pinned back, more so van Aanholt given the prolific nature of Liverpool’s attack.

Mane has proved a problem to contain for Palace and is looking to run his goal-scoring streak against the Eagles to three matches. But when one considers Liverpool’s attacking options beyond the Senegal international, Palace will wind up on the short end of this tussle for a fifth straight time at Selhurst Park.

PREDICTION: CRYSTAL PARK 0, LIVERPOOL 2

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Fulham (0-0-0) vs. Crystal Palace (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Back in the Premier League for the first time in five years, Fulham hope they have spent enough to not be a one-season wonder as they open play at Craven Cottage in a London derby against Crystal Palace on Saturday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

It has been a three-year process to get here for the Cottagers (25-13-8 in 2017-18 Championship), whose fortunes turned after hiring Slavisa Jokanovic to avoid relegation to League One in 2015-16. Fulham finished sixth in 2016-17 and then third this past season. After edging Derby County in a two-legged tie to reach the playoff final, Fulham earned their Premier League spot with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium on a goal by Tom Cairney.

With the deep pockets of owner Shahid Khan – who already owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and is bidding to buy Wembley Stadium – Fulham have made the financial commitment to remain in the Premier League by spending approximately £100 million in transfers.

Their biggest offseason signing was acquiring striker Aleksander Mitrovic from Newcastle United for a reported £22 million – at the time a record for Fulham – after the Serbia international was a driving force in their run to promotion by scoring 12 goals in 17 matches after arriving on loan in January.

“We have obviously talked to Mitro since last season and he always wanted to come back here,” midfielder Stefan Johnson told Fulham’s official website regarding Mitrovic. “He knows the head coach well, he knows the players around him and he knows the club, so it’s a good match for him and for us obviously so I’m sure he will do big things.”

The Cottagers then broke that spending record right before the close of the window Thursday, agreeing on a reported £30 million transfer for Marseille midfielder and Cameroon international Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa. That further strengthens Fulham’s side as they had previously added central midfielder Jean Michael Seri from Nice and centre back Alfie Mawson from relegated Swansea City in deals believed to total £33 million.

The Cottagers also poached Bristol City left back Joe Bryan, who had undergone a physical to make a lateral move to Aston Villa in the Championship. Goalkeeper Sergio Rico, defender Calum Chambers and winger Andre Schurrle also are on Fulham via loans from Sevilla, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund, respectively, and striker Luciano Vietto was a late loan arrival from Atletico Madrid.

Rico is expected to start the season deputising behind Fabri, who signed from Turkish side Besiktas and is the No. 1 since Marcus Bettinelli has been sidelined all preseason due to injury. Schurrle makes his return to the Premier League after scoring 11 goals in 44 league matches for Chelsea from 2013-15.

Behind Mitrovic up front, Fulham have one of England’s top young players in 18-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, who moves up to the wing in their 4-3-3 formation after playing left back last season and scoring a team-high 16 goals in all competitions to win EFL Player of the Year honours. Cairney is the team’s primary playmaker, having totaled 21 assists in all competitions in the last three seasons.

Thirteen kilometres to the southeast, Crystal Palace (11-11-16 in 2017-18 Premier League) are out to avoid a second straight disastrous start that would have relegated most teams. The Eagles set a dubious standard last term by becoming the first side in 129 years of English football to lose their first seven matches while failing to score in any of them.

They sacked Ronald de Boer after the first four defeats and called on Roy Hodgson to rescue his boyhood team. The former England manager did that and more, missing out on a top-half finish behind Newcastle United on goal difference as a return to a four-man back and simpler playing style proved more conducive to success.

For his efforts, the 71-year-old Hodgson was rewarded with a one-year contract extension through the 2019-20 season. This will be his 43rd season on the touchline overall as Palace seek a seventh straight season in the top flight starting with Saturday’s contest.

Repeating last season’s success, however, could prove challenging. Midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek is no longer with the side as the England international’s loan from Chelsea ended. Palace stayed true to their word they would not sell winger Wilfried Zaha, cognizant of the fact they lost all 10 league matches he did not play last term.

Luka Milivojevic, who led Palace with 10 goals last season – seven from the penalty spot – is the creative force of the midfield and will look for help from Zaha and Andros Townsend on the wings. Christian Benteke leads the line, looking to rebound from a dismal season in which he scored three goals in league play after bagging 15 in 2016-17.

“We have a lot of abilities through our team with a lot of players able to score, whether it be from free kicks or headers,” Benteke told his team’s official website. “(The season opener) is going to be big for both teams, they will be looking to show their fans that they are back and will be looking to win the game but we will also be going there looking to get maximum points.”

Palace’s two notable summer signings – defensive midfielder Cheikou Kouyate from West Ham United and Max Meyer from German side Schalke04 – will likely be available as reserves for Hodgson. The Eagles added striker Jordan Ayew on loan from relegated Swansea City ahead of the transfer deadline.

Fulham are 2-1-1 in Premier League matches versus Palace, taking four points in the most recent meetings in 2013-14. The Cottagers lead the all-time series 17-11, and there have been 15 draws.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Fulham are slight favourites at 29/20 odds, while Crystal Palace check in at 9/5. There are 9/4 odds on the teams splitting the points.

A potential parlay could be to play both teams scoring with a Fulham victory at 15/4 odds plus the over of 2.5 goals at 3/1 odds.

Mitrovic getting first goal-scorer odds at 4/1 feels like a fair play considering his 7/5 any-time odds, while new Fulham signing Vietto jumped into joint-second for first-goal honours at 11/2 with Zaha. At 2/1, Zaha also ranks ahead of Benteke (9/4) as Palace’s top any-time goal-scorer.

PREDICTION

The buzz of top-flight football at Craven Cottage for the first time in five seasons is augmented by Fulham’s staggering aggressiveness in the summer window. The triumvirate of Mitrovic, Sessegnon and Cairney will hold much of the Cottagers’ hopes for success, and the sooner Sessegnon can transition to his wing role from left back, the better.

Palace will undoubtedly be a better team than it was at this time last year after Hodgson’ rescue job, but how they replace Loftus-Cheek’s industry in the middle will be pivotal. Benteke also has to get going quickly because even with Ayew’s addition, the options at striker will not put fear into the hearts of any defences.

Look for the new boys to start out on the right foot as Fulham make their return to the Premier League with a victory.

PREDICTION: FULHAM 2, CRYSTAL PALACE 1

2018-19 EPL Team-by-Team Previews: Crystal Palace (July 27)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 10th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page)

CRYSTAL PALACE EAGLES

Manager: Roy Hodgson (Hire Date: Sept. 12, 2017)
Tenure Length: 13th/20 in Premier League and 46th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 11-11-16, 44 points, 11th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 45
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-10
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 6 (includes 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2013
Last Relegation: 
2005
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Fourth-round loss (Bristol City)
2017-18 FA Cup: Third-round loss (Brighton and Hove Albion)

2017/18 REVIEW

Roy Hodgson’s rescue mission of his hometown club will probably achieve legendary status when re-examined in later years. The former England manager came on board after Palace lost its first four matches — the attempted transition to Frank de Boer’s three-man back line was a complete disaster.

The switch to Hodgson did not start swimmingly either — the Eagles lost their first three matches under him, capped by hidings from Manchester City and Manchester United by a combined 9-0 scoreline. They became the first team in the 129 years of the Football League to fail to score a goal while losing their first seven contests.

The second international break came after the loss at Old Trafford and allowed Hodgson the opportunity to drill his basic defensive tenets into the side. There was a quick reward coming out of the break as Palace upended Chelsea 2-1 for their first league goal and victory of the campaign.

After being eliminated from the Carabao Cup, Palace could devote its undivided attention to climbing out of the cellar for the next two-plus months. The Eagles were still on one victory through 12 matches after a 1-0 defeat at Tottenham, but a 2-2 draw versus Everton started a run of 12 matches in which they claimed points in 11 of them (5-6-1).

A 1-0 victory over Burnley on Jan. 13 got Crystal Palace to 12th in the table, but Hodgson’s charges were dragged back into the relegation scrap with four losses on the trot as the Eagles slid to 18th following a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on matchday 30. James Tomkins and Luka Milivoejvic scored in a vital 2-0 win at Huddersfield Town the following match, and after a loss to Liverpool, the Eagles sprinted to the tape on a six-match unbeaten run (4-2-0), claiming 11th in the table by grabbing the maximum nine points from their final three contests.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Crystal Palace Lineup

With so much in flux for Palace beyond the back four, it is difficult get a gage on just how will be in the first XI Hodgson sends out for the lid-lifter at Craven Cottage versus Fulham. While Vicente Guaita was brought in from Getafe to challenge for the No. 1 shirt, incumbent Wayne Hennessey signed a three-year extension this summer and it should be his job to lose.

The back four should be set, and the hope is Patrick van Aanholt continues to grow into the position after serving as one of Palace’s best players in the second half of the season.  Around Milivojevic and James McArthur, it almost feels like open season — Townsend will be there and Zaha will be there if he’s not on another club — but after that, it’s guesswork with veteran Jason Puncheon on the wing and Christian Benteke being given another chance to find his 2016-17 form.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

Every transfer window would not be complete without breathless speculation that Zaha is going to jump to a bigger club, and it has been no different this summer. The Ivorian attacker, who was second on Palace with nine goals in league play last season, created an uproar when he took Palace information off his social media bio, but with no movement at the moment, it appears he is staying at Selhurst Park.

Until the January rumors start in mid-November. Or sooner.

The most glaring departures are in midfield, where Ruben-Loftus Cheek returned to Chelsea after his loan ended and Yohan Cabaye moved on a free transfer to Al Nasr of the Saudi Professional League. Cabaye’s 28 starts last season were tied for third-most among Palace players and when healthy, Loftus-Cheek was almost always a first-team player and made 21 starts ahead of his World Cup run with England.

To that end, Hodgson is reportedly interested in acquiring Liverpool’s Marko Grujic — Milivojevic’s Serbian teammate — on loan and also potentially Danny Drinkwater, who appears to be caught up in a numbers game with the arrival of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea. Drinkwater, who was a £35 million transfer from Leicester City last season, played just 22 matches in all competitions and battled through a calf injury early last term.

The team may also need to find a new left back if Timothy Fosu-Mensah does not return for a second loan spell from Manchester United. The 20-year-old made 17 starts for Crystal Palace last season, though the Eagles went 3-4-10 in those contests.

Crystal Palace’s big offseason acquisition thus far was getting Guaita from Getafe, where he had 13 wins and 12 shutouts in helping the Spanish side finish eighth in La Liga, its best since placing sixth in 2010. Guaita conceded just 26 goals in 33 matches, and one of those clean sheets came at the Nou Camp versus Barcelona.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Luka Milivojevic (MF)

This could be a breakout season for the 27-year-old Serbia international, and it may be one Crystal Palace needs to survive in the top flight. He led Palace with 10 goals in league play last season, though seven of them came from the penalty spot. Milivojevic also started in two matches in the World Cup for the Orlovi, who failed to progress out of the group stage behind Brazil and Switzerland.

He will need some help without Loftus-Cheek and Cabaye, though Puncheon could ease some of that worry. A deep-sitting midfielder, Milivojevic will be under pressure to help Palace transition from defence to offence and get the ball ahead to Townsend and Zaha.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, oddsmakers are fairly confident on Palace staying up as they are joint-ninth with West Ham United at 6/1 odds to be relegated. The Eagles are level with Newcastle United at 4/11 odds to finish in the bottom half of the table and joint-seventh with the Magpies for a top-half finish at 11/5. Palace also has 20/1 odds of cracking the top six and 66/1 odds for a Champions League spot by placing in the first four.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 11 — Fulham (N/A) A
Aug. 18 — Liverpool (4th) H
Aug. 26 — Watford (14th) A
Sept. 1 — Southampton (17th) H
————–
April 20 — Arsenal (6th) A
April 27 — Everton (8th) H
May 4 — Cardiff City (N/A)
May 12 — Bournemouth (12th) H

OUTLOOK

There are no two similar ways to look at Crystal Palace. On the positive side of the ledger is Hodgson being there for a full preseason and removing a repeat of the tumult that happened in the disastrous early part of last season. On the negative side is the departure of Loftus-Cheek without an obvious replacement for his industry in the midfield.

On the positive side is the playmaking skills of Townsend, whom Palace is determined to keep. On the negative is the on-going hope Benteke puts it all together and re-discovers his 15-goal form 2016-17 after totaling just three in league play last term. And they may need the Denmark international to do that if Zaha does jump ship for a bigger club before the summer window closes.

It’s worth remembering Crystal Palace did not record a single point in the 10 matches Zaha did not play last season. Zero. Zilch. Nil. Nada.

It’s a balance that sees Crystal Palace with the potential of grafting its way into the top half of the table with the realisation it could also be one or two devastating injuries from being involved in another relegation scrap without suitable replacements up front. That Hodgson has already told supporters to brace for another such tussle ran counter to his optimism in May, so it really may be a wait-and-see approach through the first few matches to figure out which way Palace will trend.

PREDICTED FINISH

12th place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City