A Blue Up North reviews our win over lowly Crystal Palace.
This weekend’s Saturday teatime Premier League kick off saw Chelsea finally return to winning ways at home to relegation threatened Crystal Palace. After The Blues have registered only 4 victories in their 15 matches so far in 2018 and were lying 5 points behind the Top 4 with only 9 league matches to go, this was a very welcome win.
With vital matches coming up in the following 8 days away at Barcelona in the Champions League and a trip to Leicester City for their quarter final FA Cup clash, some may have believed that Antonio Conte may have rested one or two key players for the visit of the team lying down in 18th position. However qualification for next season’s Champions League is a priority, along with a morale bolstering victory may restore some belief into the players heading into the next 2 matches.
Conte reverted back to having a recognised striker in his starting line up and Olivier Giroud was excellent as a focal point for almost all of Chelsea’s attacks. This was only Giroud’s third start in a Chelsea shirt and he was unfortunate not to score. Not only did he excel in his role as the central target man, but his presence allowed more freedom of movement for both Eden Hazard and Willian on his 2 flanks. The Belgian clearly enjoyed returning to the left hand side of the attack especially after his almost impossible task of taking on 2 big Manchester City centre backs last time out.
Gary Cahill was recalled back into defence instead of Antonio Rudiger and Davide Zappacosta got the starting nod over Victor Moses, possibly after the Nigerian’s poor attacking displays in the 2 matches in Manchester, in which he lost possession on a regular basis.
But it was the 2 central midfielders that emphasised the domination shown by Conte’s men. N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas both had the drive, skill, time and space to constantly create chances. As the away side sat fairly deep with 2 banks of 4 defending in very compact positions, Fabregas was able to display his full array of passing skills. Even Kante was given the freedom to release himself from his usual defensive shackles and drive forward with the ball as he regularly joined into attacks during the first half.
It was a first half in which The Blues had complete control, with Andros Townsend’s shot that floated over the crossbar being Palace’s only real chance. That dominance continued into the second half but with the home side only converting 2 of their opportunities and the half time introduction of Wilfred Zaha to bolster The Eagles counter attacking ability, there was always the chance of a late comeback from the away side.
So, as the match wore on, Chelsea started to regret their lack of conviction in front of goal. The Palace midfield gained more ambition as Zaha attempted to take the game to The Blues. As the likes of Hazard and Willian eased off believing the match was fully won and started to place one eye on the 2 big cup matches coming next, you could see the hope and belief start to grow within the away side’s ranks.
Roy Hodgson, who would have been unhappy with his players attitude and lack of ambition in the first half, will have enjoyed the fight and hunger shown them late on. Unfortunately, from his perspective, The Eagles did not have the ability to earn a draw and it was The Blues who took the 3 points.
Conte will be very satisfied with most of his side’s attitude and performance, but he will need to address the combination of not finishing enough chances whilst being on top in a match, as well as not being tough and resilient enough to maintain whatever lead their have later on in matches.
However a win, no matter how big or small the score line margin was, is still 3 points in the league and as they battle to get back into the top 4 the points are more important than the final score or the style in which the win was achieved. And I’m sure that the players were very satisfied to return to being on the front foot and to concentrate their energies mostly on forward play
Written by Jon Ellis. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue