Belfast Telegraph

Damien Delaney tasked with taming Diego Costa

Alan Pardew has given Damien Delaney the task of nullifying the threat posed by Diego Costa when Crystal Palace host Chelsea.

The Premier League leaders visit Pardew's team on Saturday hoping to equal a club-record run of 11 straight wins, when the in-form Costa is again expected to be key.

Since Antonio Conte's summer appointment as Chelsea manager, Costa has excelled with his work-rate and in scoring 12 goals in 18 games, perhaps establishing himself as even more influential than Eden Hazard.

Delaney, meanwhile, has re-emerged as significant to Pardew's team having losing his first-team place to the £10million James Tomkins earlier in the season.

Their only clean sheet in the league so far came when he was recalled against Southampton, after they conceded five at Swansea while he was a substitute, and with him outstanding in central defence.

The 35-year-old's unlikely renaissance will therefore next be tested against one of the division's most in-form players and most in-form team, one Pardew had earlier described as "unbeatable".

"We've always had great admiration for (Costa)," said Pardew, 55, who in the summer attempted to recruit the striker's understudy Michy Batshuayi. "He's a competitive player.

"We won there last year and Delaney had one of his best games for me against Costa that day, and he's going to have to do a repeat performance because the guy is at the top of his game.

"We had Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) the other night, Costa this weekend, so my centre-halves will have had a real test and that's what's great about the Premier League.

"I wouldn't say (this is Chelsea's strongest ever team), but the form they're in is probably as good as any Chelsea team in the Premier League.

"I can't remember too many times when a team has won 10 on the trot although I do vaguely remember Manchester United winning their first 10 and not winning the league many years ago (in the '85-86 season they secured 11 straight wins). So it doesn't mean that this period is going to get them the title.

"Most people would say they have all the qualities of a team that could win the Premier League. But I do look at a couple of the others and think that their competition is as strong as it has ever been.

"United were very good the other night. We played to our maximum (on Wednesday) and still got beat. And Tottenham, Man City, Arsenal; it's a tough league this year so Chelsea still have a lot to do."

Palace's 2-1 home defeat by United came with them convinced their visitors' opening goal should have been disallowed, and Pardew has revealed his players are "questioning" the refereeing they have faced.

"We've been a little bit disappointed the last few games with some of the refereeing decisions we've had but we can only try to force the luck our way," he said.

"The team are fighting and if we continue that fight then hopefully some of those decisions will go our way and that's all we can say to the players. The players are questioning it a little bit."

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