Match Review: Chelsea at Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea FC
Selhurst Park | December 17th, 2016
Following a successful trip to the Stadium of Light, Antonio Conte’s blue wagon journeyed on to Selhurst Park to face the Eagles of South Norwood. Their reputation travelled ahead of them having conquered all 10 venue’s prior to this. They left opponents and pundits alike telling tales of a shimmering blue light blinding everything in its way. One of such pundits called it the great-est football domination in league history, more spoke of it’s width and balance and the veterans of old - those who had conquered before - with a knowing grin and grey hairs of wisdom, boldly declared: “This is the stuff of champions”
Alan Pardrew had been here before, it was not so long ago when a similar tale was told about a special one wielding a special team traversed all of England stamping out futile hopes of any form of defiance to their cause. Yet he prevailed then, so even though his recent successes could not be more dismal in contrast - only 1 in 10 - he sought to cast a shadow over this new blue light like he had done the old one. And so he stationed his gang in the old 4-2-3-1. He did not cower then, and he would not cower now.
Conte had taken to the famed wild country league quite well. He was a man of intensity and pas-sion who had made a name for himself at the I bianconeri* of Turin but he knew there was still a long way to go. Work work work! he kept telling himself, only decisive league success would please the Russian guv’nor. So only one thing was acceptable as he and his men traveled South to Selhurst Park: Victory. He stationed his men in their familiar 3-4-3 outfit. That much was predictable, but such predictability brought no comfort to opponents. What was less predictable was which mercenaries Conte would deploy. Though his magician locksmith, Fabregas had been quite effective in the last few showdowns, he anticipated he would need more steel in the center of the battle turf and so his Serbian enforcer was selected to partner N’golo Kante. For the same reasons of expected physicality, the “Lion Killer” Willian (who hates Tottenham) was chosen to replace the foxy Pedro. Alongside Willian were the two most feared marksmen in all of England: Diego Crimes Costa and a man whose danger was synonymous with his name, Hazard.
Jonathan Moss was sent by the ruling delegation to contain the expected chaos. On a cold winter Saturday, cries went out from supporters home and away. An ominous fog descended on the are-na, sounds of whistles and drums arose from within - Selhurst Park was ready.
It began a tentative affair, both teams testing the waters. Chelsea who were expected to domi-nate, to swagger forward with pace and precision, did have the edge in possession and initiative but not necessarily in momentum. They would not be baited into carelessness; they would be pa-tient, careful, and safe. Pardrew knew better than to advance wildly and leave his defences ex-posed. At the same time he understood that sitting back would be futile and only prolong the in-evitable hit so his team decided to foul indiscriminately and break up play whenever possible to disrupt any building flow from the blues. They counted on Moss to be inconsistent and neglect-ful, they counted on Chelsea becoming frustrated and careless. It was the only way. Chelsea stuck to the script. Patience, patience. The fractured nature of the game meant Chelsea were re-stricted to asserting their dominance through corners and free kicks but those proved innocuous.
Anxiety grew within the Chelsea ranks and as rare moment of lack of concentration allowed Ja-son Puncheon to ghost into the Chelsea penalty area without drawing the attention on N’golo Kante but the midfielder failed to connect properly with the cross from Zaha and his effort went wide. It was the chance they needed, it was a chance they should have taken, it was the only real chance they would get.
Again the game settled into fragmented and cautious play. Moss in keeping with his inconsisten-cy handed Diego Costa his first caution in 11 games, although rumour has it that it was all a con-spiracy contrived by Conte and Costa. Motives remain speculative. One thing was clear, Diego did not come for shenanigans, Diego came for the loot. Eden Hazard, creative and dangerous, picked up the ball from an advanced position and was forced deep into midfield. He escaped the attentions of Yohan Cabaye easily and continued across the field with the ball. The Eagles let him have it, underestimating what impact he could have from that far out. Hazard signalled to Azpilicueta to advance into position and Mr Reliable obliged. When in position the ball came to him and with a precision comparable to that of Fabregas - Alan Pardrew’s words - he sent the ball into the box. Diego Costa tore between Scott Dann and Martin Kelly and with a leap and a headed finish that would have pleased Didier Drogba, he put Chelsea ahead going into half time. Crystal Palace had fallen
That goal was enough to send the blue wagon back home where they await Bournemouth FC on boxing day. However it seemed far from over in the second half. Palace did all they could and the game opened up, however they engaged in even more tackling to curtail Chelsea. As a result Chelsea found more attacking situations in both open play and set pieces but they failed to add a goal. Palace hence grew in confidence and began to impose themselves. Antonio Conte could see his team losing ground and not in a pig’s eye was he going to let it fly. He took off Willian for Fabregas and immediately seized momentum from Crystal Palace and cemented Chelsea’s con-trol of the game. This blue light would not be overcome, it will not be suppressed, it will not be denied. Palace huffed and puffed, Chelsea held on tight and probed for another goal. A second goal proved elusive and even when Marcos Alonso’s expert set piece looked to find the net, it found the crossbar instead.
The blues endured some pressure comfortably but could only collectively hold their breath when a free kick in a sweet spot was presented to set piece specialist Andros Townsend in the dying minutes of the battle. Townsend missed. A miss so bad that it dissolved all the tension in the air and Selhurst Park was tamed. Chelsea 1 - 0 Crystal Palace
Chelsea now have a record run of victories within a season, Antonio Conte did that. Chelsea have become only the third team in Premier League history to reach 500 wins, Antonio Conte did that. Kante and Costa are both unable for the next game against Bournemouth FC at Stam-ford Bridge and this should see Mitchy Batshuayi and possibly Nathaniel Chalobah get some game time. The Chelsea back line remains unchanged and although they have all performed well, David Luiz continues to look like he should rest. Regardless, in Conte we trust. Also noteworthy is the fact that Diego has taken 15 less games (97) to reach 50 goals as Didier Drogba, not bad at all. 11 games, 25 goals and 2 conceded. Top of the table at Christmas, having a beer and a laugh in a Chelsea robe from World Soccer shop, Long live London’s shimmering Blue Light and a Merry Christmas to you all.
*I bianconeri is a nickname for Juventus FC.