Saturday’s late kick-off could have been a banana skin for Chelsea as Crystal Palace made the trip to Stamford Bridge. However, the Blues didn’t allow that to happen with a narrow 2-1 win, thanks to Willian’s opener and a Martin Kelly own goal. Patrick van Aanholt scored in the dying minutes but it proved to be nothing more than a consolation.
A champion first half
For the first time in several weeks, Antonio Conte opted to start with a recognised striker, with Olivier Giroud chosen to replace an out-of-form Pedro. It looked as though the Frenchman would provide the opening goal for the hosts but it came from Willian, once again. After 25 minutes, the deadlock was broken, with the Brazilian’s low strike from outside the box clipping the leg of Kelly on its way into the bottom corner.
It wasn’t long before the former Liverpool left-back had a hand in another Chelsea goal. On the half an hour mark, Eden Hazard unselfishly chose to pick out Davide Zappacosta instead of shooting himself and as the Italian full-back fired the ball past Wayne Hennessey, Kelly’s attempted clearance sent the ball onto his goalkeeper’s back, off his own leg and into the back of the net.
James Tomkins then showed his team-mate just how it’s done by denying the third goal brilliantly with the back of his foot. Like Zappacosta had done, Giroud slid the ball past the Palace keeper after being teed up by Hazard, but his effort was met by a great last-ditch attempt to keep it out, and it meant the Blues went into half-time with just the two-goal lead.
Hosts survive late scare
With the advantage, Chelsea’s main aim in the second period was to limit the chances of the opposition and they almost shot themselves in the foot less than two minutes into the half. Alexander Sørloth crashed an effort onto the post after the champions had given Wilfried Zaha the ball following a mistake at the back.
Tomkins saved his side yet again with a fantastic block, throwing his whole body in front of Willian’s powerful drive from just a few yards out. A first league goal for Chelsea continued to elude Giroud and the ex-Arsenal missed another very simple chance. Hazard did all the hard work before finding Alonso, who then picked out Giroud in the packed penalty area but he could only hit the post when it was probably harder to miss the gaping goal.
Palace then had the ball in the net as Sørloth slammed home from six yards. However, the goal was ruled out as Anthony Taylor ruled Jaïro Riedewald’s foot too high, which looked slightly harsh in the replays. The visitors then scored a legitimate goal as added time loomed. Zaha, who had been a thorn in Chelsea’s side for the whole second half, shifted the ball wide to former Blue van Aanholt. The Dutch full-back squeezed the ball through the legs of Thibaut Courtois but it was too little, too late for Roy Hodgson’s side.
Next up is a trip to the Nou Camp for Antonio Conte and his players and while they played some lovely football on Saturday afternoon, the Blues will need to up their game if they want to advance to the quarter-final of the Champions League. It will be a real test of their character.