A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s last match of 2018, away to Crystal Palace.
The last round of Premier League matches in 2018 included Chelsea’s trip to Crystal Palace. The South Londoners have been a thorn in the side of The Blues in recent seasons and went in to this match having beaten champions Manchester City and Leicester City recently.
Chelsea themselves had bounced back from a surprising defeat at home to Leicester with a solid and determined performance in their victory away at Watford on Boxing Day.
Maurizio Sarri was without both Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who were unable to finish Wednesday’s match, as well as Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Olivier Giroud was drafted in to lead the attack, with Eden Hazard moving to the left flank and Willian to the right. Ross Barkley was preferred to Mateo Kovacic in central midfield and Alvaro Morata made his first appearance on the bench since recovering from his injury.
Roy Hodgson made just 1 change to the XI that dominated, but failed to score at home to Cardiff City last time out. Jeffrey Schlupp came in for Max Meyer in midfield as the former England manager opted for a more defensive minded team. Wilfred Zaha continued to lead their attack even though he had not scored and only registered 1 assist in his last 12 league appearances.
The opening couple of minutes were very befitting a Sunday midday kick off – both teams struggled to put together 2 passes and neither gained any foothold.
It was Chelsea who settled first with their possession based style of playing. As the home side sat back with a midfield 5 sitting just in front of the back 4, The Blues slowly built some momentum. With only Zaha in any sort of advanced position, Chelsea could press forward. Marcos Alonso played totally as a left winger, while Cesar Azpilicueta wandered up the right wing regularly.
With Palace only wanting to play on the counter attack, they rarely had possession of the ball in Chelsea’s half. Jorginho in particular protected his defence very well early on and David Luiz started to take advantage of the time and space he was allowed with the ball. His probing passes gave Chelsea’s attacks another dimension and caused problems to The Eagles defence.
Chelsea had the first few goal chances, but Antonio Rudiger’s header and N’Golo Kante’s shots were unable to trouble Vicente Guaita in the home goal. Then on 27 minutes, Giroud rifled a beautiful shot in after a delightful through ball from Jorginho, but the Frenchman was narrowly offside.
As The Blues continued to build the pressure, Willian’s free kick skimmed off the outside of the post, soon followed by the Brazilian having a shot well saved at the near post.
However, the match drifted for a spell. Chelsea were finding it difficult to penetrate through a resolute, determined home defence, while Palace were so defensively set up that they rarely got close to Chelsea’s penalty box. When they did, an inch perfect tackle by Barkley on Zaha epitomised the home side’s struggle to look like scoring. It was easy to see why they only have 5 goals at home in the league all season.
It took til the 51st minute before Chelsea finally broke the home side’s resistance. David Luiz, nearly 20 yards inside the home side’s half of the pitch lifted a through ball to Kante who had made a diagonal sprint into the area. The diminutive Frenchman’s control and finish highlighted what an all round player he is. And Chelsea finally had their deserved lead.
Surprisingly the home side did little in way of a reaction to falling behind and The Blues resumed their control of the match. It took til the 69th minute before Hodgson made his first change in personnel, but they still sat back.
Giroud ran on to Willian’s through ball and blasted it in to the roof of the goal, but for the second time he was correctly ruled offside. To make matters worse for the striker, he appeared to turn his ankle as he was challenged by James Tomkins and needed to be replaced by Alvaro Morata.
The Blues continued to press as they attempted to increase their lead but just the 1 goal was enough to see them return with all 3 points. It was only in the dying minutes that the home side finally started to push forward and Chelsea’s defence started to look unsure, but it was too little too late.
That is now only 5 goals in 10 home league matches for The Eagles, who did not even muster an attempt on target. They were admirable in defence, but showed little ambition in going forward. The Blues kept possession and probed in attack as they attempted to register their 3rd consecutive away league victory.
Chelsea did not need to over extend themselves to overcome a relatively lifeless Crystal Palace. The victory meant The Blues consolidated their 4th place and edged closer to Tottenham Hotspur in 3rd spot. The performance may not have been to the liking of Sarri and all who watched on, but after last season’s embarrassing loss at Selhurst Park, the most important component was gaining all 3 points. Surely that is the best way to end the year.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue