Chelsea had not been in good form of late. Three losses in their last four Premier League matches buried their title chances, and they sat out of the UEFA Champions League qualifying section before this round of games. But The Blues finally played like they know how, and at times they resembled the team that won the league title less than 12 months ago.
Thanks to a dominant performance in the first half and a solid collective effort after the break, Antonio Conte’s men defeated Crystal Palace 2-1, although the scoreline is tighter than what it should have been. The Blues dominated the game almost entirely, created the best chances throughout the game, and didn’t give Palace the chance to come back in the second half. A goal from Willian and an own goal from Martin Kelly were enough to push Chelsea past Palace, despite the fact that Patrick van Aanholt’s stoppage-time strike increased the tension in the final minutes.
Chelsea’s first-half dominance quickly seals the deal
The Blues made four changes to the starting XI that was coming off a 1-2 loss against Manchester United the last time out (Cahill instead of Rudiger, Zappacosta per Moses, Fabregas instead of Drinkwater, and Giroud over Morata) and the changes were noticeable. Zappacosta and Fabregas added some much-needed attacking intention to the side, and Giroud worked beautifully as a target man with Willian and Eden Hazard behind him. As such, it didn’t take long for Chelsea to score the opener when Willian found the back of the net with an outside-of-the-box shot that deflected on a defender before going in.
Chelsea weren’t done, however, and they quickly doubled their lead thanks to Martin Kelly. Palace’s central defender tried to cleared the ball away after a low cross from the right side, but instead he placed it in his own net with the keeper beaten. Out of nowhere Chelsea jumped to a two-goal advantage, and seemed the game was over already before the 45th minute mark.
Chelsea could have added a few more before the break, but couldn’t take advantage of their chances. Giroud had a clear chance on stoppage time and Hazard had a goal disallowed, so both teams went back to the dressing room with a comfortable 2-0 advantage for the home side.
Palace’s (late) reaction not enough to turn things around
Roy Hodgson decided to send Wilfried Zaha on to the pitch looking to spark things up, and the former Manchester United player quickly made an impression for the London-based side. The visitors were inches away from pulling one back when Alexander Sorloth smashed the post two minutes after the break, and it seemed as if Palace were going to play with a more positive attitude. Unfortunately for them, that didn’t happen. Chelsea continued to create the clearer scoring chances.
However, Conte’s men were wildly inaccurate – or rather we should say unfortunate – in front of the goalkeeper. Willian, Hazard and Giroud all came close to score, but the scoreline didn’t move and Chelsea looked set to cruise their way into an easy win. But a former Chelsea player had other plans. Former Blues youngster van Aanholt made things interesting nearing the end of the match when he scored for Palace on stoppage time. It was van Aanholt’s second goal is less than a one week, as he also scored against Manchester United this past Monday.
It wasn’t enough, though. Chelsea closed things out comfortably and secured three vital points on their race to earn a UEFA Champions League berth next season. Meanwhile, Palace remain in relegation zone and they would be forced to play in the Championship ended today. They are one point adrift safety, however, so all hope is not lost for them. But time is quickly running out.
Chelsea: Courtois (5); Azpilicueta (7), Christensen (6), Cahill (6); Zappacosta (6), Fabregas (6) (Bakayoko (-), 88′), Kante (7), Alonso (5); Willian (9), Hazard (8) (Pedro (-), 88′); Giroud (7) (Morata (5), 72′)
Subs not used: Caballero (GK), Ampadu, Emerson, Moses
Crystal Palace: Hennessey (6); Wan-Bissaka (7), Kelly (5), Tomkins (6), van Aanholt (7); Townsend (5) (Lee (-), 81′), Milivojevic (6), McArthur (6), Schlupp (5) (Riedewald (-), 75′); Sorloth (5), Benteke (5) (Zaha (6), 46′)
Subs not used: Cavalieri (GK), Sakho, Fosu-Mensah, Souare
Goals: Willian (1-0, 25′), Kelly (2-0, OG, 32′), van Aanholt (2-1. 90′)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Yellow cards: Morata (CHE); van Aanholt, Tomkins (PAL)
Red Cards: None
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