Chelsea took their sixth premier league win on the bounce in comfortable fashion against Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. In a match in which we controlled possession and restricted the visitors to only one shot on target, there were good performances throughout the side. Reece James came in at right back after coming on and scoring against Ajax midweek, and had Zaha in his pocket all match.
With Jorginho missing through suspension, someone had to step up to the midfield play maker role, and Kovacic continued his recent run of form to dictate play in the middle. Mason Mount also had a great match, finding space behind the Palace midfield and creating chances.
N’golo Kante returned to the side after time out through injury to join Kovacic and Mount in a midfield three, whilst Emerson also returned to the starting line up at left back in a back four after a good performance at Watford last weekend. The front three consisted of Abraham flanked by Pulisic and Willian. Palace lined up 4-5-1, but this didn’t prevent Chelsea getting on the ball in midfield. Not intent on pressing high onto Kovacic, the deeper of our central three, he was able to receive the ball from the defence and look to play into Abraham dropping off, or Mount between the lines as the visitors had a fairly flat five across the middle of the pitch. The centre backs were also relatively untroubled in possession, and Zouma in particular was hitting some great raking diagonal passes out wide to Pulisic. It was the American international who had our first chance. Willian picked up a loose header in midfield and drove at the box before playing in Pulisic down the left channel, he jinked left and right to find shooting space but as the angle narrowed he was denied by Guaita at his near post.
Mount was taking up some great positions between the lines, but maybe wasn’t receiving the ball in this area as much as he would have hoped initially. Free kicks would be our next source of goal scoring chances. Willian curled just wide, the ball passing between the stanchion and the post, while Emerson did likewise from a tighter angle on the right hand corner of the box shortly after. Willian had been felled by Zaha leading up to this chance. Zaha went into the book, his second foul within minutes, and he could have gone for this had the ref chosen to award a first yellow for kicking the ball away after his previous indiscretion. He was already having the makings of what would be a difficult day up against Reece James.
Our best move of the half saw Kovacic play through midfield into Abraham, who laid it back to Mount, again in a good position in advance of the opposition midfield. The ball broke to Kante on the edge of the area, but his shot was blocked for a corner.
Palace had their first chance of the match after Emerson fouled Townsend on the right flank, but the advantage played by Mike Dean saw play switch to the opposite flank, where James then gave away a free kick after bringing down Zaha. Dean went back to book Emerson, and the free kick was whipped across the face of goal by Milivojevic and straight out for a goal kick.
Our best chance of scoring continued to look to be getting Mount on the ball between their midfield and defence, and a repeat of his link play with Abraham earned us a free kick on the edge of the box. He took it himself, but couldn’t beat the wall. The last chance of the half was again a result of the two former youth team players linking, and playing in another in Reece James on the overlap from right back. His low cross rolled across the line of the six-yard box, just evading Abraham on the stretch, and Pulisic’s cut back deflected to Willian, whose shot was superbly blocked wide of goal by none other than Gary Cahill. It had been a positive first period, James had defended superbly against Zaha and provided good options when we were in possession as well. Mount had been key in midfield, while Kovacic was providing the ammunition.
Into the second half then, and Palace were still struggling to keep any meaningful possession. It only took seven minutes for the deadlock to be broken. Mount found Willian on the left corner of the area, and his first time ball round the corner put in Abraham who calmly slotted past Guaita. In a match where the visitors had threatened so little, it looked as if one would be enough to secure all three points. It didn’t get any better for Palace. Every time they went long to isolated forward Ayew he was comfortably beaten in the air by Tomori, having another great match. Zouma roused the crowd with two great tackles consecutively, before Pulisic tested Guaita after cutting in from the left and firing from the edge of the box, the keeper palming his effort over the top.
Zouma was in action in defence again shortly after. Townsend putting in a good ball that saw Kouyate contest a header at the near post with the Frenchman, Zouma doing enough to win it, but promptly hitting the deck after a clash of heads. A short stoppage ensued before he was passed fit to continue. In Arguably one of his best performances this season, he was good with and without the ball. His passing was excellent, and his diagonal balls wide continued to stretch the visitors. Emerson was on the receiving end of one of these balls, promptly whipping a dangerous ball in that went out for a corner.
Chelsea were looking as comfortable in possession as at any point so far, knocking across the back line unchallenged and feeding midfield when the passes were on. A cracking switch of play to Pulisic on the left saw him feed Batshuayi (recently on for Abraham on seventy three minutes) who turned and shot for goal, the ball deflecting into the air off a defender and into the path of Pulisic who had continued his run into the box to head home and seal all three points. This was his last touch of the ball as he was replaced by Hudson-Odoi!
Palace mustered their only shot on target as we headed inside the final ten minutes. Zaha beat James for only the second time all match, and cut back well to the edge of the box for McCarthy, but his shot was saved comfortably by Kepa to his right.
Chelsea had turned in another polished display, looking solid from back to front to record a sixth straight win in the league. A great way to head into the international break.
Chelsea (4-3-3) 2 (Abraham 52, Pulisic 79)
Arrrizabalaga; James, Tomori, Zouma, Emerson;
Kovacic, Kante, Mount, (Gilmour 87);
Willian, Abraham, (Batshuayi 73), Pulisic, (Hudson-Odoi 80).
Crystal Palace (4-5-1) 0
Guaita; Ward, (Kelly 44), Tomkins, Cahill, Van Aanholt;
Townsend, Kouyate, (McCarthy 82), Milivojevic, McArthur, (Sclupp 70) Zaha;