EPL: Chelsea, City eye home wins

After dropping two points at home already this week in a 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea have little margin for error ahead of Everton's visit to west London on Saturday. Manchester City remain just three points off the top as they go into Saturday's home match against Crystal Palace.

Chelsea were involved in a bad tempered 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion in their previous match.   -  Reuters

Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink says his team's slender hopes of challenging for a top-four finish in the Premier League hinge on them enjoying a perfect record at Stamford Bridge. After dropping two points at home already this week in a 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion, Hiddink's side have little margin for error ahead of Everton's visit to west London on Saturday.

But Hiddink maintains that as long as there is a mathematical chance of claiming a place in next season's Champions League, that will be the club's target. And the belief Hiddink might oversee a dramatic transformation in Chelsea's fortunes during the second half of the season has been gathering pace during his first three weeks in charge.

Results have improved - Chelsea are undefeated in six games since Jose Mourinho was sacked before Christmas, five of those with Hiddink at the helm - and, more importantly, so too have performances. But against West Brom the flaws that surfaced during their dismal first half of the season resurfaced, with Hiddink's side guilty of conceding two sloppy goals and Diego Costa once again apparently intent on staging a running battle with his opponents.

If they are to recover and beat Roberto Martinez's Everton, Chelsea must demonstrate more steel to match the enterprise they occasionally showed going forward against West Brom, even with Eden Hazard still sidelined with a groin injury.

Everton have lost just one league game away from home all season and have let in only nine goals on their travels. In addition, they have drawn more Premier League matches so far - 10 in total - than anyone else so perhaps Everton's 0-0 draw at Manchester City this week should not have come as a surprise.

Martinez's men are hard to beat, but they do not win enough either; the consensus among the club's support is that a team containing the talents of John Stones, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku should be higher than 11th in the table.

City in search of successive victories

It is a signal of Manchester City's inconsistency that they have not managed to string together two successive Premier League victories since mid-October. Yet it is a sign of the division's unpredictability this season that despite this, Manuel Pellegrini's side remain just three points off the top as they go into Saturday's home match against Crystal Palace.

Wednesday's 0-0 draw at home to mid-table Everton has not proved as costly as it might have done, with leaders Arsenal also dropping points in a 3-3 draw at Liverpool on the same night. In addition, City kept a second successive clean sheet, suggesting that their defence is finding some semblance of stability in the continued absence of injured captain Vincent Kompany.

Kompany is likely to be out for another month as his club try to get to the root of the calf trouble that has restricted him to just three league starts since City won 1-0 at Palace on September 12. With fellow centre-back Eliaquim Mangala recovering from a hamstring problem, Pellegrini may continue with Martin Demichelis alongside Nicolas Otamendi, though Bacary Sagna could move across from full-back if required.

Pellegrini has indicated that he will make some changes for the Palace match, which kicks off less than 66 hours after Wednesday's game finished, giving little time for his players to recover. Playmaker David Silva is likely to be given a more significant role, having been rested altogether for last Saturday's 3-0 FA Cup win at Norwich City before being given a 16-minute run-out as a substitute in mid-week.

Crystal Palace's results last month, when they were unbeaten in five games, have brought Alan Pardew a nomination for the December Manager of the Month award. Their form since the turn of the year, however, has been much less impressive, with successive league defeats sandwiching the impressive FA Cup win at Southampton.

This week's loss at bottom club Aston Villa was particularly painful, especially as Pardew's side failed to score for a fourth successive league game.

With Yannick Bolasie still sidelined, Palace's lack of threat up front is a growing cause for concern. Striker Connor Wickham is expected to start after making his return as a substitute against Villa following a three-week absence with a calf problem.

Saturday's fixtures

Tottenham vs Sunderland, Bournemouth vs Norwich, Chelsea vs Everton, Manchester City vs Crystal Palace, Newcastle vs West Ham, Southampton vs West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa vs Leicester