Chelsea start the new year in style as they record their easiest victory of the season with a surprisingly routine 3-0 victory at Crystal Palace.
A goal by Oscar in the first half and two early in the second by Willian and Costa saw Chelsea wrap up the points early, and the last 20 minutes turned into a training ground routine.
Even if the fans may complain they did not get their money’s worth in a one-sided affair in the torrential rain, there will be no complaints at all by interim manager Guus Hiddink, whose side were visibly more fluid and happy with every pass.
It remains to be seen whether Chelsea can sustain the impressive performance today for the second half of the season, but if Guus Huddink’s record in his first interim spell in charge of only losing once in 23 games in charge of Chelsea, then Chelsea could race up through the table, though the limit is unknown.
The start of the match saw a side three points off the Champions League places host a side four points off the relegation zone, but where in recent past that might have been Chelsea hosting Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge, it speaks volumes of Chelsea’s decline this season, and Crystal Palace’s ascent under Alan Pardew, that this was the reverse fixture at a remarkably noisy Selhurst Park.
Campbell had an early chance, as did Zaha but Zouma used every inch of his long legs to kill any danger.
Hazard came off injured early in the first half and was replaced by Pedro but, given the Belgian’s ineffectiveness, it did not make much difference. If anything, it made Chelsea better, and it was the visitors who scored the game’s first goal with less than half an hour played.
Fabregas freed Costa down the right and the Spaniard was unselfish in squaring the ball on the by-line to Oscar to tap in.
Oscar delivered a delicious through ball over the Crystal Palace back line to find Azpilicueta, who did nothing wrong with his touch or shot, but Hennessey was equal to it.
This was a fixture of a side having its best Premier League season versus a side having its worst, with the former, Crystal Palace, condemned to going into the half-time break down for the first time this season.
Would things improve for the hosts? Puncheon instantly delivered a cross from the off as Pardew’s message was clearly one of high intensity.
Zouma rose highest and should have buried a superb Willian free-kick, whilst Puncheon had another opportunity but his tame shot was smothered by Courtois.
But any mental motivation by Pardew would have been sapped out by the physical conditions and two more quick Chelsea goals around the hour mark.
Oscar was fouled on the edge of the box after neat build-up work with him and Fabregas and whilst everyone stopped for the imminent free-kick, Willian took matters in his own hands and rifled the ball into the roof of the net, with Kevin Friend wise to play the advantage.
Soon after, Willian wiggled free on the right and his cross should have been cut out by Hennessey but poor contact meant the ball fell to Costa to tap home. The Spaniard really has not had to work for a goal but he will settle for easy one-yard tap-ins.
Pedro, Costa, Oscar and Costa once more all tried to get the fourth but Chelsea, and more importantly Crystal Palace were done by the 66th minute as the Premier League takes a break for the FA Cup.
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Man of the Match
WILLIAN: Great energy from Chelsea’s most consistent performer. In truth it was his second goal that stole the match with the game still tentatively poised at 1-0. Did all the hard work for Costa’s goal too, and floated in an excellent free-kick that Zouma should have done more from. Another excellent display when another winger, Hazard, continues to flop and be injured. 8/10
Hiddink refused to get carried away: “Do not go over the top, it is the first win after a worrying period with two draws so the team desperately needed the win and it was convincing. There is a long way to go, mathematically the possibility of Champions League is still there. The league is so strong but as long as we play like we did today I will be happy.”
Pardew recognised the need to strengthen: “We were not at our strongest, we were missing key players and could not play our natural game. We will be looking at the market in case something comes through. I have every confidence in this group that we will be in and around the top 10.”