Chelsea returned to action from the international break without Kante and Morata, and turned in a dire performance in defeat to Crystal Palace.
Against a side that was yet to score a goal in the league this season, let alone record a win, Chelsea were outplayed for two thirds of the match. Crystal Palace started well, and Chelsea, playing 3-4-3 this time out, were on the back foot early on. Zaha forced Courtois into a stop at his near post after controlling a cross from the left side and turning Cahill. Poor use of the ball meant we couldn’t force our way up the pitch, and on eleven minutes we were behind. This time a ball was played into the box from the right hand side, intended for Cabaye, who was beaten to the ball by Luiz, but his attempted clearance ricocheted off Cabaye then Azpilicueta on its’s way into the net. Their first goal of the season was not pretty, but the Palace fans didn’t seem to care much.
We struggled to get a strong foot hold in the match. Not being able to play fluidly through midfield to the front as we have so often done. Hazard & Willian were unable to influence proceedings by drifting infield, and Batshuayi was a peripheral figure for most the match. Not able to hold the ball up, and given nothing to chase in behind.
We did however show fight to draw level. Fabregas floated over a corner from the right, and Bakayoko was able to power his header into the ground, and into the net as he found space in the box.
After levelling we were able to generate some sort of momentum, Alonso having a shot deflected wide after Willian stepped over a Moses cross, Batshuayi and Fabregas going close from set pieces. The first a header over from a corner, the latter a whipped free-kick just past the angle. For the most part it was still dis-jointed from Chelsea though. Zaha continued to cause trouble up front, drifting into wide areas in an attempt to isolate on of our central three defenders. Cahill did well to deflect one of his efforts wide of the far post for a corner as he fired in from the right side of the box. Townsend soon fired just over after Fabregas was caught on the ball in the middle.
Worse was to come defensively. Sakho had advanced forward from the back, and played in Zaha, this time in the left channel. He picked it up between Zappacosta (now on for the injured Moses) and Azpilicueta, running of the back of the latter, he then guided a low right footed effort passed Courtois into the far bottom corner.
Into the second half, and Chelsea still lacked fluency in possession, but as the half went on, and with Palace sitting deeper intermittently, we began to improve. The last half an hour was our best period of the match. Prior to that Fabregas, increasingly finding more space in the second half, fired a shot off the top of the cross-bar. He also picked out a near post run from Alonso at a corner, his header over the angle of post and bar. Pedro was introduced in place of Batshuayi with thirty-three minutes left to play, and this coincided with an improvement in our attacking play. Hazard moved to centre forward, and Fabregas revelled in the extra space afforded when Palace sat deeper in the midfield. He began to find Alonso and Zappacosta with regularity as they pushed on, and more chances resulted. Zappacosta had a shot pushed away awkwardly by Speroni, with Pedro also forcing a near post save.
Despite increased potency in the last half hour, me did not nearly enough here to warrant anything from the match. The score line was very nearly increased late on as a Puncheon shot was parried into the path of Van Aanholt by Courtois, but the former Chelsea full back inexplicably fired wide as he was off balance. Townsend also had a chance to extend the lead, but fired wide after neat footwork from the right edge of the area.
Charlie Musonda entered proceedings late on, and Fabregas picked out his diagonal run into the box, but he couldn’t keep his volley down. Our last chance to salvage anything arose after Sakho seemed to lose the ball under his feet close to the Palace goal line, Fabregas shot across goal but wide.
A very disappointing result which will no doubt raise questions once more about the lack of strength in depth in the squad, as we failed to get a result with two key players missing. This strength in depth will be tested at the highest level on Wednesday, as we face Roma at home in the champions league.
Chelsea 1 (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses (Zappacosta 40), Fabregas, Bakayoko, Alonso; Willian (Musonda 64), Batshuayi (Pedro 57), Hazard.
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Rudiger, Scott.
Scorer Bakayoko 18
Crystal Palace 2 (4-3-1-2): Speroni; Ward, Dann (c), Sakho, Van Aanholt; McArthur (Fosu-Mensah 85), Milivojevic, Schlupp (Puncheon 75); Cabaye (Riedewald 86); Townsend, Zaha.
Unused subs Henry, Tomkins, Kaikai, Sako.
Scorers Azpilicueta (og) 11, Zaha 45
Booked Milivojevic 71, Dann 83