Chelsea squeezed past an impressive Crystal Palace side at Selhurst Park on Tuesday evening, as a 3-2 victory thrust them up to third in the Premier League table.
The Eagles were mightily unfortunate to find themselves a goal down in the opening stages as Willian made the most of Gary Cahill’s hamstring pull to tee up Olivier Giroud who swept home. Christian Pulisic then continued his fine run of form with an emphatic left-footed drive which simply had too much venom for Vicente Guaita at his near post.
Wilfried Zaha, however, offered Palace a route back into the contest with a thunderous effort from range which flew past a hapless Kepa Arrizabalaga for his first goal of the calendar year.
The hosts then pressed for an equaliser either side of the break, but the best chance fell to the Blues and Giroud, who should’ve done better with his header after meeting Reece James’ superb delivery.
Substitute Tammy Abraham thought he’d secured all three points for the Blues after rounding off a swift counter, but Christian Benteke’s immediate reply set-up a nervy final 20 minutes for Frank Lampard.
The Eagles went desperately close to snatching a late equaliser as Kepa turned Scott Dann’s header onto the post, while Kurt Zouma crucially denied Benteke from scoring his second as the Palace man beared down on goal.
Key Talking Point
With safety all but confirmed, Roy Hodgson will be using the remaining encounters of the season as tone-setters, if you will, for next term and they were impressive on Tuesday evening – albeit in defeat.
With Christian Benteke used as the front-man, Palace had two outlets in the form of Zaha and Jordan Ayew on the flanks – who rotated throughout – and they were able to cause the visitors problems as the pair drifted inside to allow their respective full-backs to surge forward. Benteke, meanwhile, was able to link play effectively as the Eagles midfielders were able to find his feet at a canter.
The Belgian’s capacity to combine was reflective as Palace as a whole, Hodgson’s men were able to connect midfield and attack impressively through intricate combinations and they started to have their own way with a physically inferior Chelsea midfield, dominating the ball in the second period.
In the end, they were mightily unfortunate to lose but Tuesday’s showing would’ve pleased the entirety of the Eagles faithful. They were fantastic.
Starting XI: Guaita (6); Ward (6), Dann (6), Cahill (6), Van Aanholt (7); Milivojevic (5), Kouyate (6), McArthur (7); Zaha (7*), Benteke (7), Ayew (6).
Subs: Sakho (5), McCarthy (6), Townsend (6), Meyer (N/A)
Amid a promising Palace performance, it’s no surprise that their star man was at the heart of it.
The Ivorian has endured a difficult season from a statistical perspective but shut-up a few critics slandering his production with a tremendous effort from range to bag his side’s first of the evening.
And throughout the encounter, Zaha showed off his ability to play off both flanks and create space for the charging full-back behind him with clever movements in field which created a dangerous dynamic out wide for the Eagles.
When he did receive possession, he was usual crafty self. Beating markers at ease with his frightening explosiveness and acceleration, while also combining intricately with the likes of Benteke to ensure Palace troubled a deep Chelsea defensive line.
Key Talking Point
A huge three points for Frank Lampard, but this was a contest that they were never truly in control of.
They were erratic in possession in the opening stages but still found themselves 2-0 up and although they enjoyed a spell of superiority after Pulisic’s strike, Palace maintained order after Zaha halved the deficit.
Lampard will certainly be concerned at the ease at which his midfield was bypassed until the entrance of Jorginho and the trouble caused by the underlapping runs of Patrick van Aanholt down the left. In the end, they were clinging on for dear life.
It’s hard to envisage Lampard continuing to opt with the 4-3-3 with the lack of control they had in this one.
Starting XI: Kepa (5); James (6), Christensen (6), Zouma (6), Azpilicueta (7); Gilmour (6), Mount (7), Barkley (7); Willian (7), Giroud (6), Pulisic (8*).
Subs: Loftus-Cheek (6), Abraham (7), Jorginho (7).
The Hershey Hazard’s purple patch continues as he starred once more for Chelsea at Selhurst Park.
The former Dortmund starlet bagged his third goal in five games with a cracker in the opening period; creating a yard of separation between himself and Joel Ward before smashing home his weak-footed effort with significant authority. It was the strike of a man in serious form.
And while his influence on proceedings dwindles in the second period, there was plenty of guile and dynamism in the opening period which saw him take up some smart and dangerous positions between the lines when Chelsea transitioned swiftly, while that gliding, direct dribbling technique caused the Palace defence a few problems.
Palace are back in action on Sunday as they face a desperate Aston Villa side at Villa Park while Chelsea visit Sheffield United on Saturday evening.