Not Vintage Chelsea But A Birthday Win Nonetheless
These lesser London derbies are generally nervy affairs. Today though, had to be different. Chelsea`s league form coming into the game was atrocious. Four defeats in the last five games have seen the Blues plunge down the league.
From fighting for second place with United to chasing the coattails of Tottenham in fourth spot. With that crucial Champions League place still up for grabs, three points were essential.
An insipid performance against City needed a response from today`s starting XI. Antonio Conte chose to go 3-4-3 and thankfully playing Olivier Giroud, a real live striker. Possibly more importantly, N`golo Kante was back in midfield.
With crowd in full force Chelsea kicked off playing towards the Shed End. They need to begin the game with a positive intent and not allow Palace a chance to get a foothold in the game.
To be fair to them they looked brighter in the first five minutes than they did through the whole ninety at the Etihad. Right, that`s the last mention of that game. It was a frenetic start for both teams. The first real opportunity for Chelsea fell to Giroud, when he nearly diverted a Kante shot in from close range.
With Palace crowding the midfield and defence, when not in possession, the break though would require some patience. Make no mistake though, this side was playing with a different mentality, (just stopped myself).
With twenty minutes gone, Chelsea held the bulk of possession (56/44) and had had four shots, three of which were on target. The breakthrough came with 25 minutes gone, courtesy of Willian`s third speculative shot of the game. The shot from just outside the penalty area was low and to Hennessey`s right and went in off the post. Conte`s reaction was muted to say the least.
Chelsea supporters didn`t have to wait long for the second goal. A quick break followed by some swift passing across the front of the Palace box found Davide Zappacosta, bombing into the penalty area. His forceful cross was deflected and stumbled into the goal by the former Liverpool player, Martin Kelly, keen to give Chelsea a birthday present. Conte`s celebration amounted to one fist pump.
Palace were now floundering. Quite how some of the Palace defenders avoided yellow cards for the pounding they were giving Eden Hazard was incredible. With halftime beckoning Olivier Giroud had the opportunity to all but seal the game following a beautifully flowing move. He thought he had a simple tap-in from close range, but somehow the ball was deflected away from the goal via the backheel of James Tomkins.
Halftime Chelsea 2-0 Crystal Palace
Christian Benteke was taken off at the break and replaced by Chelsea`s nemesis Wilfried Zaha. It was Palace who began the half better. They almost pulled a goal back after a Zappacosta pass put Christensen under more pressure than he would have liked, his misplaced ball allowed Sorloth a shot which rebounded back off the post.
These were ominous signs for Chelsea. Willian was still pulling the strings for Chelsea offensively, his breakaway`s causing Palace countless problems. Another individual error, this time by Kante almost allowed the visitors a chance. The Frenchman was quick enough to sort out his own mess though. These errors will need to be ironed out by the time Chelsea arrive in Barcelona.
Olivier Giroud`s performance was a positive one for Conte and would give Alvaro Morata some food for thought. He was sadly destined to not score his first Premier League goal for Chelsea though, another effort by the Frenchman beat the keeper, but not the post. His frustration was amplified when his number was held up in the 70th minute and he was replaced by Morata.
What Chelsea didn`t need was a late Palace goal to heap the pressure on. Chelsea didn`t help themselves though as they continued with those misplaced defensive passes. As the petered out, proceedings heated up. A scuffle between Tomkins and Christensen escalated as Alonso got involved.
If the idea was to try an wind the Chelsea team up, it was a plan that was working. Next Tomkins ruffled Morata`s feathers and the two of them were carded. Morata has already seen a red card in similar circumstances this season, losing his cool against Norwich in the FA Cup. Having picked up the yellow, he stupidly applauded the referee. He got away with it. Stupid boy.
With Palace in the ascendancy they had a goal disallowed, unfortunately for them, for an alleged high boot on the diving Cahill. Chelsea got away with that one but were unable to stop one of their former youngsters getting a goal back.
Patrick van Aanholt fired in from close range, giving his side the chance of a draw. Something their second half performance probably deserved. Chelsea for all their good forward play in the first half were not clinical enough in front of goal and too slack with their defensive passing.
The Blues held out for a 2-1 win, but on Wednesday evening they are going to have do much better if they are to leave the Camp Nou with anything other than a defeat. But today, it was the three points that was the most crucial part of proceedings and that, they just about achieved.One game at a time.