Chelsea made it two away wins on the bounce with a well-earned victory away at Crystal Palace. After dominating the match for large periods, but not always able to break the Palace defence down, N’golo Kante found the net from a Luiz ball over the top to decide the match.
Crystal Palace played a back four with a five-man midfield in front of them. The initial plan seemed to be to nullify our midfield trio, but after Hazard and Luiz were found between the lines a few times early on they had to drop deeper to close this space down, and pick up Hazard so that their centre backs weren’t drawn up the pitch. This meant that for the whole match Chelsea pretty much controlled the ball in midfield as they had space when receiving the ball deep. Hazard and Giroud were both linking up well, and a succession one-two passes exchanged between them created space on the edge of the box, but the final ball didn’t reach its target, or the shots were blocked. Overlapping runs from Alonso in the first half also worked to pin back their right-winger Townsend. A stupid early yellow card for Alonso for throwing the ball away wasn’t clever though, with Townsend already having had one run past him down the right.
A free kick out on the left provided our first chance. Willian whipped it in and Rudiger had timed his run well to get behind the Palace defence, but facing away from goal, his attempted back flicked header was a bit thick and was caught by Guaita in the Palace goal.
Giroud continued his good start, linking with Hazard again to lay back to Kante, who’s shot from the right corner of the penalty area flew wide. Despite Chelsea taking control of the ball with Palace sitting deep in midfield now in an attempt to cut off space to Hazard who was mainly taking up positions in the middle, Palace did still look a threat down the right flank. Alonso was caught out of position as Townsend looked dangerous coming forward a couple of times but Barkley managed to get back to make a challenge on one occasion, whilst on the other Townsend couldn’t pick out Zaha with his pass. There was also danger down this flank as Wan-Bissaka was keen to get forward from right back. Barkley was wide to cover, but he too was caught up field in transition allowing Bissaka to maraud forward. Again the ball towards front man Zaha didn’t get there.
With Chelsea enjoying un challenged possession deep in midfield, particularly in the hands of Jorginho as the Palace midfield sat off him, there were opportunities to pick out passes forward from this area. A few hadn’t worked into Giroud or Hazard along the floor, but he played a superb ball over the top for Giroud, who was set free down the left side of the penalty area. His first time left foot volley across the keeper was excellent. Unfortunately it was wrongly ruled out for offside. The Frenchman clearly onside as he outpaced Tomkins. The home side continued to sit deep with Chelsea controlling possession. We were now being forced sideways though as passes through the highly populated centre of the pitch were not working. It looked like balls needed to be played between the lines earlier in the move from a deeper position before Palace were set in shape.
Chelsea came close as Hazard and Willian played a one-two on the edge of the area, but Hazard was brought down before he could receive the return pass from the Brazilian. Willian stepped up to take it as it was just to the left of centre. He caught it brilliantly, the ball hitting the outside of the near post. The linesman wrongly signalled a corner. He was not having a good day. From the corner Hazard’s ball in was punched clear. Willian picked it up on the left wing and cut in diagonally and fired a shot towards the near post from twenty yards or so. Guaita got down well to turn it around. The next corner found Barkley at the near post. He attempted a great unorthodox overhead, which struck the woodwork again. A good spell for Chelsea, but still no breakthrough.
As the second half begun the feeling was Chelsea required an early goal, otherwise this was going to be a match that became harder to win with every passing minute. We again began with huge amounts of possession, but along exactly the same lines as the first half. The key play of the match took place only six minutes into the second period, and it resulted in Chelsea breaking the deadlock. A Palace throw in their own half down the left was intercepted by Kante, and the ball ran to Azpilicueta. He passed back to Luiz who had brought the back line up to halfway. Under no pressure he noticed a super diagonal run from the right towards the box by Kante. Van Aanholt didn’t react quick enough, and Luiz’s ball over the top was controlled by Kante, as he turned he fired past the keeper, who’s touch on it as he dived to his left was not enough to keep it out.
Now Chelsea were happy to keep possession, and if the pattern continued they didn’t have to worry about failing to create chances. Hodgson waited until the seventieth minute to make a change, and this was to move Zaha to the left wing and put Wickham up front. Not the tactical change required to alter the course of the match. Zaha had not had much to do in this one, with the home side rarely able to keep hold of the ball, let alone create chances. He didn’t track Azpilicueta soon after moving to his new position, but his low cross was prevented from reaching Giroud by Guaita. Giroud got on the end of a ball forward shortly after, heading down to Hazard, who’s back heel found Willian behind him down the left side of the box. Guaita again saved his low shot. The ball found it’s way to Barkley on the edge of the box, but his strike was deflected wide for a corner.
Giroud managed to surge clear of the back line again following this passage of play. His left foot shot flew into the roof of the net after another fantastic finish. Again this was flagged offside, again it looked to be the wrong decision. In fairness to the linesman this one was a lot tighter, but he looked level. Such was the strikers luck on the day that he turned his ankle in this move, and after treatment had to be replaced. Morata taking his place upfront.
With twelve minutes to go the home side began to threaten for the first time after the introduction of tricky German midfielder Max Meyer. His quick ball movement and good footwork created a chance for Zaha down the left, but he didn’t watch the line and was offside upon receiving the ball. Meyer then picked out Zaha again, but his shot was high and wide. Their last salvo came from a free kick played into the box from the right wing. The ball was headed down to Wickham but he fired over.
Getting on the score sheet once had been enough for the away team here. For Palace to have gotten anything from the match after this needed a change in the pattern of play from their manager, and the introduction of Meyer came to late, and Chelsea were good value for all three points.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1) 0
Guaita; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sackho, Van Aanholt;
McArthur, Milivojevic, Kouyate, (Meyer 78), Schlupp, (Wickham 69);
Chelsea (4-3-3) 1 (Kante 51)
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso;
Kante, Jorginho, Barkley, (Kovacic 88);
Willian, (Emerson 82), Giroud, (Morata 76), Hazard.