After four consecutive matches across two competitions without winning, Chelsea have finally bucked the trend by edging out Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Sunday by a single goal, a brilliant piece of work by Kai Havertz with just over and hour gone.
This game bore special significance for the two teams. They were three points apart in the Premier League table going into it and hat it gone the other way, Palace would’ve obviously caught up with Chelsea; it would have been a mark of success for the visitors, not so much for the hosts.
But it didn’t go the other way. Chelsea won and have, for the time being, rejoined the race for the places leading into European competitions next term. They remain in 10th place, now with the same tally as Liverpool in ninth (28), though with one game played more than the Merseysiders. Nonetheless, manager Graham Potter is probably breathing easier right now, at least until he takes his team to Anfield at the end of the week for what will be, as strange as it sounds, a mid-table clash between the two giants.
As for Palace, they won’t have been too disappointed by losing at Stamford Bridge, though they may be feeling a tinge of regret for not taking advantage of the serious struggle Chelsea are going through at the moment to record a notable result. As it is, Patrick Vieira’s men are in 12th place with 22 points, seven more than all three currently occupying the relegation zone. They also have a game in hand on all three, as well as on every team in between except Leeds United in 14th.
It’s hard to say what their plans before the season would’ve been, but it’s likely that keeping a safe distance from danger is all they truly want.
The game saw only one goal scored despite numerous chances at both ends, shots rather difficult to keep out, but both Kepa Arrizabalaga for Chelsea and Vicente Guaita for Palace shone brightly at the two ends of the pitch.
Kepa did very smartly to deny Tyrick Michel from close range, coming out just at the right moment to close the angle down and making himself as big as possible. He also kept out Michael Olise’s half-volley from the edge of the box which looked like rocketing straight into the top corner with an acrobatic flying save. He denied Schlupp’s out-of-the-manual header from six yards after a near-post corner in such a way that many thought it had actually gone over the line. He parried away a Wilfried Zaha thunderbolt from around 15 yards, and eventually made a magnificent save on Cheick Doucoure’s powerful volley from range.
Guaita, on the other hand, flew low to divert an extremely accurate hit from Thiago Silva, shortened the angle before palming Hakim Ziyech’s powerful volley over the bar, caught Havertz’s low shot from 12 yards in his arms after positioning himself perfectly, rushed out timely to deny Chelsea substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang one on one and later caught his volley as well. There was nothing, however, he could do when Havertz rose above Schlupp and Doucoure to reach Ziyech’s pin-point cross and headed into the back of the net from six yards in the 64th minute, and it certainly shouldn’t cast a shadow on what was a superb goalkeeping performance.
Potter has faith in young players
Lewis Hall started both of Chelsea’s recent defeats to Manchester City on the left flank, as well as the one away to Fulham three days before this match, and it seemed Potter was simply giving Marc Cucurella a rest. But the Spaniard, who used to play under Potter at Brighton too, was left on the bench for this clash as well, and now it seems the manager really trusts Hall in important matches.
The 18-year-old certainly justified that trust against Palace. His performance was rather mature for his age, and though there weren’t any spectacular moves from him on display, he did come close to scoring once and never really looked out of place surrounded by much more experienced players.
Similar things can be said of Trevoh Chalobah, who was once again on the right side of the back three. At the age of 23, he has notably more experience than Hall having featured quite a lot last season as well. He struggled greatly against Fulham and with the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Kalidou Koulibaly for competition, it looked like he would be making way for one of them for this match, but Potter obviously wanted him in the lineup again.
Chalobah repaid the boss with a fine outing this time, and Potter’s decision has surely been a boost for his confidence.
Carney Chukwuemeka, 19, was also in the starting lineup, playing closest to Kai Havertz and Mason Mount upfront, more as an attacking midfielder than a forward, even though the official graphic before the game had Conor Gallagher there.
This was actually Chukwuemeka’s first Premier League start of the season, though he had six appearances off the bench under his belt already. He played relatively well for 63 minutes and made way for Aubameyang just before Havertz scored the only goal of the game.
Potter appears to be building a foundation for the future of the team at Chelsea by giving these players regular opportunities to prove themselves, despite the club spending vast amounts on strengthening the squad since Todd Boehly took it from the hands of Roman Abramovich last spring.
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