By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
The Fixture Blues
Saturday 14th October, Selhurst Park – The Premier League is back! Chelsea left for the international break on a downer, having lost their last game against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge. Yes, City have been at their best so far this season, but the loss still felt like a missed opportunity for the home side.
Circumstances, perhaps fixture congestion and insufficient rest for the starters, had conspired to make that game more difficult for Chelsea than it should have been. Today though they had a chance to recover form, as they made the short hop across London for the second derby of the season, this time against Crystal Palace.
Chelsea’s last game had been against the hottest team in the league, but this one was against a team in record-breaking poor form. Palace had been plagued by injuries since the start of the season, and had not scored a single goal or recorded a single point in seven league games so far.
Roy Hodgson had a major boost, with Wilfried Zaha back in the starting line-up, but Christian Benteke was still out injured, and key midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek was ineligible to play against his parent club. Chelsea had serious injury problems of their own – Alvaro Morata and N’golo Kante were both out with hamstring injuries, but David Luiz had completed his three game suspension, and started today in center back.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Speroni 8, van Aanholt 7, Ward 8, Sakho 7.5, Dann 7.5, Milivojevic 7, Townsend 7.5, Cabaye 7.5 (Riedewalde NR), Schlupp 7 (Puncheon 6), McArthur 7 (Fosu-Mensah 6), Zaha 8
Subs Tomkins, Sako, Henry, Puncheon, Riedewalde, Kaikai, Fosu-Mensah
Courtois 5, Alonso 5.5, Azpilicueta 5.5, Luiz 6, Cahill 6, Moses 6 (Zappacosta 5.5), Fabregas 7, Bakayoko 6, Hazard 5.5, Willian 4 (Musonda 6.5), Batshuayi 5 (Pedro 6)
Subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Rudiger, Christensen, Scott, Musonda, Pedro
In recent years, Chelsea have had the difficult habit of being a bit of a “turnaround team” for EPL sides in trouble, and even in the early stages of this match, it started to look like that might be the case again today. Palace completely dominated the opening ten minutes, first creating opportunities on the break, including one in which Courtois had to make a smart save off Zaha.
Encouraged, they pressed up high, forcing error after error from Chelsea’s midfield and defence, until finally they made their first breakthrough of the season. Ward and McArthur exchanged passes off a Palace throw-in right of Chelsea’s penalty area. McArthur then sold Alonso a dummy, before passing through into the penalty area for Andros Townsend.
Townsend got to the by-line and cut back for Yohan Cabaye, who was lurking just outside the six yard box. Cabaye lost possession under pressure from Luiz, but the ball bounced off Cesar Azpilicueta, and went right of a frustrated Courtois for a comical own goal.
Chelsea had to respond immediately, and this time at least, Crystal Palace obliged them. Ex-Palace player Moses had a chance to drive in a cross from the right wing, but opted to simply play it off ex-Chelsea player Patrick van Aanholt for a corner. Somehow, it turned out to be the right choice. Palace were abysmal tracking Chelsea players on the corner, maybe just too casual about it. Cesc Fabregas had no difficulty finding Tiemoue Bakayoko on the edge of the six yard box, and he headed it in for the equalizer. 1 – 1, and game on.
Once Bitten Yeah, But Not At All Shy
Palace came forward again, and you’d have thought Chelsea had learned their lesson – but no. Palace recovered possession off a careless Hazard back-pass in midfield, and Alonso was too slow tracking back to cover Zaha on the counter. Zaha struck hard from an angle, but the ball deflected off Cahill and across goal for a corner.
Hazard almost threaded a lob through for Michy Batshuayi on 28 minutes, but he was just fractionally offside, and his shot was off target besides. Five minutes later, Bakayoko released Moses wide right, and he put a beautiful low cross into the box. Willian let the ball run through for Marcos Alonso, but his shot was deflected off Ward for another Chelsea corner.
Moses Out Injured
There was another injury problem for Chelsea shortly after; Victor Moses pulled up clutching his thigh on 36 minutes. Davide Zappacosta was subbed on to replace him. Palace still fancied their chances against the league champions, and Chelsea were not doing a lot to discourage them. McArthur got the better of Fabregas in a fifty-fifty on the edge of Chelsea’s area, then poked the ball right for Townsend. Townsend set it up, and hit a left-footed shot from range, but it curled just wide of the top corner.
Fabregas had a good chance with a direct free kick just before half time, but he didn’t get enough bend on it and the ball sailed over the bar. Fabregas again almost put Hazard in with a through ball into the six yard area, but Ward hooked the ball out to Dann, who cleared.
Mamadou Sakho had been one of the heroes in Crystal Palace’s shock win over Chelsea last season. That game had come after an international break too – maybe their players benefited from additional time to prepare as a team, whereas more Chelsea players would have been away with their national teams.
Sakho was critical again today as his side again took the lead. He spotted Willian dawdling on the ball in Chelsea’s half, and stormed up the pitch to dispossess him. Zappacosta did not anticipate the danger, and did not get back to cover Zaha, so the Ivory Coast winger had space around him when Sakho passed the ball to him on the corner of the penalty area. Zaha dribbled past Azpilicueta with too much ease, then side-footed across Courtois for his team’s second goal of the game… and the season.
The Better Side
There was no other way to say it – Crystal Palace had been the better side in the first half. And they came out strong in the second-half as well, forcing a save from Courtois from distance, before Fabregas struck the bar with a long range effort himself. He had another chance when Zappacosta broke on the right, and crossed into the Palace penalty box. The ball came back out to Fabregas off Sakho, but he put his shot wide and high, into the crowd.
On 54 minutes, with Palace holding possession in Chelsea’s half, Marcos Alonso for some reason chose not to mark Andros Townsend, leaving him free on the wing. Zaha put the ball through for him then got a cross back, but this time Azpilicueta made a saving interception to prevent another goal.
Pedro came in for Batshuayi on 57 minutes. Michy… had been pretty awful. He’d not been involved much by his teammates, but he’d not actually created many chances to get involved. He’d been trying some rather immobile, ineffective hold-up play, rather than movement to create opportunities and open up space. It hadn’t worked for him at all. Both Willian and he had been black holes all game, with almost every forward move through them disappearing into a Crystal Palace possession.
Changing The Flow
As soon as Michy went off, Pedro and Zappacosta started to show the mobility Willian and Batshuayi had been lacking all game, running behind the Palace defence onto through balls from midfield, but on two occasions they were flagged offside. Charly Musonda replaced Willian on 65 minutes and the flow of the game changed in Chelsea’s favour. They had a series of chances but just could not find the finish. Zappacosta cut inside but shot straight at Speroni, then in another move attempted to cross for the onrushing Musonda, but the cross lacked the accuracy to match the run.
Musonda made another perfect run and chested a Fabregas long ball down, but sent his follow-up volley over the bar from less than ten yards out. Alonso got another free header off a corner, and it seemed he might equalize, but Speroni made the save of the game to keep it out. Zappacosta put another cross in for Hazard, but it was just ahead of him, and Chelsea lost another chance to equalize.
Just Not Going To Happen
As Chelsea surged forward Palace created some brilliant opportunities themselves on the counter, but Chelsea’s defenders stood strong to deny them the final shooting chance. Five minutes from time, Courtois knocked a long range Townsend shot back to van Aanholt, but the full back put his shot well wide of the goal.
Cesc Fabregas had one final chance to salvage something for the visitors in injury time, but he somehow contrived to put the ball out from less than two yards. It just wasn’t Chelsea’s day – but this is the Premier League. You can never take any team for granted here.
Final Score Crystal Palace 2 – 1 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: ESPN FC
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