Chelsea’s hope to finish in the top four and qualify for next season’s Champions League is in severe jeopardy after a 1-1 draw at home to Huddersfield.
Chelsea began the match just two points adrift of fourth place Tottenham and three points adrift of third place Liverpool, but with Tottenham defeated Newcastle, Chelsea’s only hope is that Liverpool lose to Brighton at Anfield on the final day of the season and Chelsea win at St. James Park against Newcastle.
Of course, the hosts could have made things a lot easier on themselves with a win on Wednesday night, but they came up against a resolute Huddersfield side that knew a point was good enough to keep them in the Premier League for next season.
Credit to Huddersfield. They knew exactly what they needed to get a result, and with back-to-back draws away to Manchester City and now away to Chelsea, they’ve earned their safety and the rewards that come with it.
But Chelsea could have made life easier on themselves. Manager Antonio Conte gambled with a rotated squad, bringing in Davide Zappacosta for Victor Moses, and starting the trio of Pedro, Willian, and Alvaro Morata in attack instead of the 3-5-2 that worked so well on Sunday against Liverpool.
From the start of the match, it was pretty clear that Huddersfield were going to be satisfied with just a point, setting up with a deep back line to keep Chelsea at bay.
It worked. Despite dominating possession in the first half, Chelsea created very few chances. Antonio Rüdiger should have put Chelsea in the lead, though, after just 12 minutes when Cesar Azpilicueta rose to flick a corner to the far post, but Rüdiger failed to sort out his feet and somehow knocked the ball wide from two yards out.
Chelsea nearly scored just before the half when N’Golo Kante found a rare pass that breached the Huddersfield defence, slipping Morata through on goal. The striker rounded Jonas Lössl, but with the angle too tight for a shot, played the ball across the face of goal but no one was on hand for a tap-in.
Just after the start of the second half, Rüdiger missed another good opportunity in front of the Huddersfield goal. Willian curled in a beautiful free kick from the right that found the defender unmarked on the penalty spot, but Rüdiger’s header flew over the bar with Lössl stranded. It wasn’t as glaring as his miss in the first half, but it’s still one that he should have buried.
Chelsea paid for that miss just a minute later when Willian was dispossessed just inside the Huddersfield half and Aaron Mooy’s long ball through the centre caught the Chelsea defence on their heels. Laurent Depoitre raced through and flicked the ball over Willy Caballero’s head and crashed into Caballero before poking the ball into the empty net.
Huddersfield supporters were in dreamland with the opening goal, though Chelsea may ask why a foul wasn’t given by Lee Mason for Depoitre’s boot being high and catching the Chelsea keeper in the midsection.
Satisfied with their goal, Huddersfield began dropping deeper and deeper, and their organised defence continued to frustrate the hosts.
Reinforcements soon arrived for Chelsea in the form of Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard, as Chelsea resorted to something resembling a 2-4-4 as they pressed for a goal.
That goal came just after the hour mark, albeit in a strange way. Mathias Jorgensen tried to clear a cross from just inside his own six-yard box, but his clearance bounced off the face of Marcos Alonso and into the net.
It wasn’t pretty, but Chelsea finally had their first goal, and Huddersfield began to just hold on.
Chelsea continued to press in attack, but Huddersfield continued to hold firm despite seeing almost no possession and watch the ball come straight back at them after every clearance.
How Chelsea didn’t score in the 83rd minute is a pure mystery. Cesc Fabregas’ corner was flicked on at the near post by Alonso, and the resulting shot from Rüdiger was blocked. After a scramble in the six-yard box, Andreas Christensen’s looping header seemed destined for goal, but the fingertips of Lössl got just enough of the ball to push it against the post before Huddersfield managed to clear.
Chelsea continued to press to find the one goal for victory, but it wasn’t to be on the night. Huddersfield’s defence stood up to the hosts and fully deserved the point for their efforts.