Chelsea ensured they would finish a below-par 2018 with three points as they squeezed past Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, beating them 1-0.
The goal came through an unlikely source as N’Golo Kante provided the difference with a left-footed half-volley just after half time. Olivier Giroud returned to the starting XI in place of Pedro who was injured while Ross Barkley was also selected as Mateo Kovacic had to settle for a place on the bench. Jeff Schlupp came into the side for the Eagles in place of Max Meyer who had started in their draw against Cardiff.
The game began how everyone expected with the Blues spending plenty of time on the ball with very little cutting edge in the final third. Wilfried Zaha may have felt aggrieved to have seen his penalty appeals waved away when he was eased to the ground by Cesar Azpilicueta but it would have been soft, even by the Ivorian’s standards.
The first man to have a real sighting of goal for the visitors was the one who would go on to net the winner. Giroud found his countryman in space heading towards the edge of the box but Kante could only watch his powerful drive fizz wide of the target. The world champion – in his new, more advanced position – tried another effort just moments later but that was easily collected by Vicente Guaita.
Giroud went one better than those attempts as he lashed the ball past the Palace goalkeeper but was brought back down to earth as the linesman had raised his flag for offside. The Spanish stopper was beaten once again as the match neared its halfway mark but Willian’s bending free kick was kept out by Guaita’s upright before the officials somehow awarded a corner.
The home side’s fans and players were almost left frustrated as that set piece almost brought the first goal. Willian’s strike from all of 30 yards needed saving as it looked to creep inside the near post. The sides went into the interval on level terms but Chelsea had enjoyed the better of the chances with the hosts’ keeper playing a vital part.
It didn’t take Maurizio Sarri’s men long to manufacture the game’s opening goal after the half-time break. Just five minutes into the half, Kante had managed to peel off Mamadou Sakho and Patrick van Aanholt, and after latching onto David Luiz’ perfect clipped pass into the box, the two-time Premier League winner hooked a shot into the bottom corner on the half volley to put his side in front.
The onus was clearly with the Blues following Kante’s third goal of the season and they looked for a second in their bid to put the game to bed. Willian’s shot was pushed away as far as Barkley whose effort was deflected for a corner before an injured Giroud had to be taken off following yet another offside goal.
Even as the game got away from the home side, they failed to fashion any decent opportunities which made it a very comfortable victory in the end for Chelsea. Kante thrived once again in his forward role and was rewarded with the decisive goal while Sarri will be hoping Giroud’s injury is nothing long-term as the fixtures continue to come thick and fast.