Chelsea got the job done in the end against Palace, but it took the introduction of Kovacic and Hazard with 25 minutes remaining to seal it.
Crystal Palace got gong quicker than Chelsea. Playing a 4-4-2 system with Zaha and Townsend up front they pushed forward and created a couple of chances early on. Zaha got in behind in the inside left channel after a neat one-two, but Kepa cut out his low cross into the box.
Chelsea had a man advantage in the centre of midfield but didn’t take advantage of it in the first half, at least not until we broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute. Until then we often had all three of our midfielders behind the whole Palace XI as their front two dropped back to help cover the spare man in the centre of the pitch. This resulted in Chelsea playing sideways for large periods of the half. When the goal did come it was the foresight of Pedro that provided it. With Hazard starting on the bench it was Willian and Pedro flanking Morata in the front three. Pedro was found dropping of between Van Aanholt, the ex-Chelsea man playing left back for Palace, and left midfielder Meyer. Van Aanholt blocked his first ball in, but the second found Morata who turned well and despatched. Morata was at the sharp end again soon after, when a free kick from the left side was headed back across the box to him, but he couldn’t keep his header down. Not our most fluid half of the season, but we lead at the break nevertheless.
Eight minutes into the second half and Palace levelled. McArthur was given way too much time to play a pass through the back line for Townsend to latch onto, and he couldn’t be caught by Luiz and finished smartly across Kepa.
Chelsea had to respond now but struggled to lift the tempo, and lacked cutting edge in the centre of the pitch. Another chance was created for Morata though, whose header was well saved diving to his left by Hennessey after a ball in from the right flank. The situation was remedied by the introduction of Kovacic, and the fit again Eden Hazard. Barkley and Willian made way, having not been able to influence the match. Immediately there was a stark improvement. Kovacic took control of the midfield. He moved the ball around the pitch with a much higher tempo, which the visitors now found difficult to cope with. Chelsea looked dangerous now. Hazard looked like he hadn’t been away, and linked well with Kovacic and Morata as Chelsea were now able to link midfield and attack more easily. There was an instant impact from the subs. Hazard played in a free kick to the back post only a minute after entering the pitch, and Morata controlled and fired past Hennessey at the near post to restore the lead.
Five minutes later Chelsea sealed the win after some great football down the left flank. Kovacic, Hazard and Alonso played a triangle of passes, as Kovacic found Hazard, who then played in the over-lapping run of left back Alonso. He played in a lovely low cross that Pedro met and tucked into the bottom right corner.
The last 25 minutes is where the match was won here. A marked improvement in ball usage and tempo made our threat a lot more difficult to defend against. Morata had a great match. Even tracking right back Wan-Bissaka into our own half and dispossessing him after Hazard had failed to track him. He could have rounded the evening off with a hat trick when he went through 1v1 against Hennessey in added time, but tried to lift it over the keeper who stood firm to save.
A well deserved victory in the end, but Chelsea were only incisive in the last third of the match.
Chelsea (4-3-3) 3 (Morata 32, 65), (Pedro 70)
Arrrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso;
Kante, Jorginho, (Fabregas 80), Barkley, (Kovacic 64);
Pedro, Morata, Willian (Hazard 64)
Crystal Palace (4-4-2) 1 (Townsend 53)
Hennessey; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt;
Kouyate, Milovojevic, McArthur, (Schlupp 80), Meyer, (J Ayew 71);