London Evening Standard

Crystal Palace’s sole win at Chelsea came 33 years ago when both clubs were in the old second division. Tomorrow, Palace go to Stamford Bridge with the champions, after a shaky start to the season, buoyed by the impact of new arrival Pedro.

But Yohan Cabaye, Palace’s record £13million signing, says: “We won’t be scared of them. No, no, no. They have to feel that we are not scared of them. Tomorrow, we will not let Chelsea players play as they like.”

We are talking in the media room of Palace’s Beckenham training ground and, on the wall, is the exhortation “Respect the enemy’s strength” from the Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu. Cabaye glances at it and says: “We respect them, we respect all teams. But we will focus on getting something out of the game. I am not worried about the quality they have got.”

There is one Chelsea player whose quality the 29-year-old knows well, his former Lille team-mate Eden Hazard. “He is very special, the best player in the Premier League,” he says. “He could win the Ballon d’Or.”

In the last five years this FIFA award, signifying the world’s best player, has been shared by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The former Newcastle midfielder says: “Eden becomes more mature year by year. When the game is tight he can make the difference. He scored important goals and he had a big part when at Lille we won the League and the French Cup [in 2011]. His technique is fantastic. He has body strength as well. His first two or three steps are so quick. Then his technique can make the difference.”

So what will he tell his team-mates about stopping Hazard?

“We just have to play our proper football, stay focused on our job and defend as a unit.”

Alan Pardew’s side have done that well in two of their three games, beating Norwich, with Cabaye scoring, and Aston Villa. But they lost at home to Arsenal, who Cabaye could well have been playing for now.

In 2013, Newcastle turned down a £10million bid. Pardew, then Newcastle manager, had brought the player to St James’ Park two years earlier, triggering a clause in his Lille contract, and felt the player’s head had been turned by the Arsenal approach.

The France international was so keen to be with Arsene Wenger that, for a time, he refused to play and admits: “I wanted to go but the move didn’t work. I was disappointed, of course. Arsenal are a big club. That’s life. You have to say something else will happen. Six months after I went to PSG.”

However, his year and a half at Paris St Germain  did  not turn out as hoped. Last season he started only 13 times in Ligue 1, spending longer on the bench (1,109 minutes) than on the pitch (967 minutes). This made him fearful that he might jeopardise his chances of playing for the hosts in Euro 2016.

“I spoke with Didier Deschamps [the France manager] at the end of last season,” says Cabaye. “He told me I am the kind of player who has to be playing every weekend to be fit. That is why I wanted to move.

“There was talk of bids but no other Premier League team actually bid for me. Then the Gaffer rang.”

The Gaffer is, of course, Pardew. Cabaye says: “For me, he is a fantastic manager. The Gaffer is very close to his players. And he knows how to get the best from us.

“Sometimes, he is strict. He can be on at us to try to get the best. He has to be. And sometimes he can be more relaxed. He knows when he has to be strict and when he has to be relaxed. And, tactically, he knows his job. That’s why he has got good results. At Newcastle, he was manager of the year [in 2012].

“I know the fuss that Palace have made of me and the money they paid. But there is no pressure on me. I don’t want to be apart from the team. I want to part of this group. We have some brilliant players.”

The move means Cabaye has exchanged Zlatan Ibrahimovic for  Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon.

“Of course, Ibra is a big star. I enjoyed my time with him and I respect him. But I also respect Wilf and Punch. They are brilliant Premier League players and, for sure, I will enjoy my time with these two.

“I have a big respect for the French League but the Premier League is more competitive, even more than two years ago.”

Having left PSG, he has also said goodbye to Champions League football. Palace’s horizons are more limited and he says: “The main objective is the Premier League. If we can finish higher in the table then last time [10th], it will be a great season.”

While he retains warm memories of Newcastle fans, he already appreciates the Palace crowd. “They were singing all through the first game at Norwich and their support in both the home games was brilliant.”


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