This has been a rather odd start to the season. Nobody can argue with six points and a slightly dizzy fifth position after three games so everything should be rosy in the garden but somehow there are still some issues that need addressing.
In every game this season, including the Capital One Cup match against Shrewsbury, Palace have started poorly. Don’t take my word for it, that is also the view of Alan Pardew who has admitted as much and has made tactical changes in all the games accordingly.
The Aston Villa game was a case in point where the team looked strangely lopsided and our right flank was exposed by the marauding Grealish who exploited the wide open spaces and ran the game in the first-half.
Pardew made two changes at half-time to redress the balance, replacing Murray and Zaha with Gayle and Mutch. I must admit I was muttering about the wisdom of these substitutions at the time but there was a distinct improvement in the overall balance of the team and we eked out a deserved victory in the end. Full credit should go to Pardew for his disarming honesty and in making the required changes he shows a flexibility that many of his predecessors lacked.
As we are facing the champions on Saturday it would be good to start on the right foot. Chelsea may not have moved into second gear yet this season but they do not need any encouragement from a supine Palace. So the manager will hopefully set up the team correctly to upset their rhythm and ensure that we can play on their defensive vulnerability, having conceded seven goals already this season they do not seem quite as impregnable as many Mourinho sides have in the past.
One bright spot that emerged from the Villa match was the debut of Bakary Sako, whose strength and power were immediately visible. There is a certain rawness to his game but he possesses a hammer of a left foot, which he used to great effect to score the winner three minutes before time. Given the unfortunate circumstances behind his appearance with Bolasie’s father’s death on Friday, Sako would not have expected to play but he seemed to relish the chance and he will certainly provide stiff competition for our other wide men. He might even ruffle the feathers of Chelsea’s defenders along the way.
Richard is a freelance football writer and author. His latest book The Agony & The Ecstasy - A Comprehensive History of the Play-Offs is available through www.ockleybooks.co.uk
He writes for The Guardian and a variety of Palace fanzines and blogs.
Follow him on twitter @rcfoster