Saturday 10th March, Selhurst Park – Crystal Palace visited Stamford Bridge for the late EPL kick-off, in Chelsea’s sixth derby in the league this season. Chelsea’s record against their London neighbours in 2017/18 didn’t make good reading: one win against Tottenham at Wembley, two draws home and away to Arsenal, and two disappointing defeats away to West Ham and Crystal Palace.
Chelsea also needed to break another bad streak – they’d lost four of their last five league games against Bournemouth, Watford, Manchester United and Manchester City, only managing a win against bottom club West Bromwich Albion. That was just three points from a possible fifteen. They were now a full five points adrift of a Champions League qualification place.
Palace had their own troubles – they were fighting (and losing) a relegation battle. Recent form was poor; two draws against Newcastle United and West Ham in their last five league games, two points from fifteen. Similar form to Chelsea in fact.
They did have a habit of raising their game against their West London hosts though: Crystal Palace won their last three fixtures against Chelsea. And they’d only narrowly lost their last two games against Tottenham and Manchester United, 1-0 and 3-2 respectively.
Davide Zappacosta, Olivier Giroud, N’golo Kante and Gary Cahill all came into the Chelsea side today, having sat out previous games as subs or through injury. Ross Barkley and David Luiz were still out injured, but Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ethan Ampadu were on the bench for this game.
Roy Hodgson had major injury worries – Jason Puncheon, Conor Wickham, Julian Speroni, Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Bakary Sako and Yohan Cabaye were all unavailable. Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek was ineligible to play against his parent club. Fortunately, Mamadou Sakho and Wilfried Zaha passed late fitness tests, and were included in the match-day squad.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 7, Alonso 7.5, Azpilicueta 7.5, Christensen 6, Cahill 7.5, Zappacosta 8, Fabregas 8 (Pedro 5.5), Kante 8, Hazard 8 (Bakayoko 5), Willian 9, Giroud 8 (Morata 5.5)
Subs Caballero, Bakayoko, Emerson, Ampadu, Moses, Pedro, Morata
Hennessey 7, Wan-Bissaka 7, Kelly 4.5, Tomkins 8, van Aanholt 7, Townsend 7 (Lee Chung-Yong 6), Milivojevic 6, McArthur 6, Schlupp 5.5 (Riedewalde 5.5), Sorloth 7.5, Benteke 7 (Zaha 8)
Subs Cavalieri, Sakho, Lee Chung-Yong, Souare, Riedewalde, Fosu-Mensah, Zaha
In the opening twenty minutes the Palace defence were compact and disciplined, dealing well with Chelsea’s attacking threat. Christian Benteke also made an impact at the other end, winning balls in the air and putting Chelsea’s back three under some pressure. Andros Townsend had the chance to put a looping shot in from the edge of the box, but it went just over the bar.
Chelsea weathered the storm until 25 minutes, when Willian again showed his quality. The Brazilian forward picked up possession wide left, and dribbled inside past Townsend and Milivojevic, then whipped the ball in towards goal. The shot didn’t have a lot of power on it, but it took a deflection off Martin Kelly to wrong foot the keeper and went in off the post for 1 – 0.
Willian now has 12 goals and 5 assists in his last 18 starts for Chelsea in all competitions, which is a pretty good haul considering the club’s difficulties this season.
Just seven minutes later, Davide Zappacosta (and unfortunately, Kelly again) struck to make it 2 – 0. Palace’s young full back Aaron Wan-Bissaka had been coping with Marcos Alonso on the left, but on the other wing, Zappacosta had been giving Jeffrey Schlupp and ex-Chelsea prospect Pat van Aanholt nightmares.
The goal came off a sweeping Chelsea counter-attack, starting with a lovely through ball from Fabregas to the left wing, continuing with a low Alonso cross along the edge of the box, a Willian dummy to lose James Tomkins, then a Hazard pass wide to the overlapping Zappacosta.
Similarly to Zappacosta’s thunderbolt against FK Qarabag earlier this season, the finish was more a cross than a shot. Kelly actually cleared the cross, but it rebounded straight back at him off Wayne Hennessey’s head, and went off his knee into the net.
Pace and Firepower
Zappacosta also made a couple of good chances for Giroud, zooming to the by-line and hanging a cross up for him, but Wan-Bissaka put Giroud off slightly and his header was tame, easy save for Hennessey. Giroud also headed Zappacosta’s other cross wide under pressure from Kelly.
Eden Hazard, N’golo Kante and Willian all combined well in the Palace box, passing and dribbling figure eights around the opposition before Hazard unselfishly laid off a final pass for Giroud, when he could (and maybe should) have scored himself. Giroud side-footed the ball past Hennessey, partially wheeled away thinking he had scored his first league goal for Chelsea, but Tomkins made a world class sliding tackle to clear the ball off the line.
Chelsea nemesis Wilfried Zaha was subbed on for Christian Benteke at half time, and he was part of a pretty aggressive press that forced Zappacosta and Andreas Christensen into giving away possession right on the edge of the area. The ball fell to Alexander Sorloth, who raced towards goal and might have scored, but N’golo Kante got back on time to deflect his shot onto the post.
This was Christensen’s third high-profile defensive error in the last four games – the only difference today was that unlike Barcelona and Manchester City, Palace could not capitalize.
Sorloth had a goal correctly disallowed because Gary Cahill was fouled by Jairo Riedewald in the buildup.
Palace continued to press and build intensity until the 90 minute mark, when Patrick van Aanholt stepped forward to continue the fine tradition of ex-Chelsea players scoring against their former club.
Crystal Palace broke at pace down the right wing, then Sorloth passed centrally to Zaha, who dummied right to drag the defence away then passed left to van Aanholt. The Dutch full back had acres of space in which to operate, and he nutmegged his former teammate Courtois to make it 2 – 1.
This game was a fantastic advert for the premier league: a proper derby played at blistering speed, lots of action at both ends. If not for luck and some last ditch defending, there would have been a lot more than three goals scored.
Olivier Giroud may not have got a goal, but he had a massive impact on the way his team dominated the game, putting the defenders under heavy pressure, and creating space for Willian, Zappacosta, Hazard and Alonso to roam the final third causing merry havoc. In fact, Palace only started to get into the game when he was taken off. Perfect case for attack being a form of defence.
However. The final score shows what happens when you don’t convert chances into goals – Chelsea only just managed to scrape the win and break their losing streak.
Final Score Chelsea 2-1 Crystal Palace
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Guardian
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