Chelsea’s run of 10 consecutive Premier League victories at home come to a shock end as Crystal Palace fight back to win 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Fabregas ensured the hosts got off to the perfect start after five minutes, but Crystal Palace won on their last trip to Chelsea in August 2015 and would do so again, with two goals in two minutes soon after, firstly by Zaha before Benteke delivered the killer blow.
Six of the last seven meetings between these two sides have been settled by single-goal margins, but despite a second-half Chelsea onslaught, Conte could not pick up where Chelsea left off before the international break.
The Blues have kept just two clean sheets in their last 10 league games, having recorded 10 shut-outs in the previous 12 matches, and this loss, coupled with a tricky-looking fixture against Manchester City on Wednesday, proves the title race is far from over, with the lead currently standing at seven points.
It was a frenetic start to the match, with the outcome decided in all but 12 minutes. Chelsea poked their noses in front first, started off by a wonderful long ball by Fabregas to Hazard, who controlled and waited until the Spaniard caught up with play, squaring the ball back to Fabregas to tapped home from three yards out. It was sound a simple goal, but it was expertly done between the two men supporting Diego Costa up top.
They say you are at your most vulnerable straight after you have scored a goal, and if complacency did creep into Chelsea’s play, it should not take away from a fine individual goal by Wilfred Zaha just four minutes later.
With the ball lost by Matic, Benteke and Zaha were tightly marked but the latter shrugged off Alonso and Azpilicueta and, with the smallest window of opportunity, leathered it past Courtois.
One became two just moments later as Chelsea were stunned. Two-on-two again after a swift counter-attack, Benteke and Zaha ran rings around Luiz and Cahill, with this time the latter turning provider for the former. Benteke, now one-on-one with Courtois, still had a lot of work to do, but lifted the ball over his Belgian compatriot with aplomb. The 26-year-old scored against Chelsea home and away last season whilst playing for Liverpool, and despite having only scored one goal in his last 13 league games this campaign, was returning to haunt Chelsea agin.
The match did not let up after such a busy start. Pedro should have been granted a penalty when his shot was blocked by Townsend’s arm — Craig Pawson denied it — whilst Hennessey did brilliantly to stop Costa’s shot after he was found by Fabregas.
The onslaught kept coming: Alonso, Matic and Azpilicueta all had noteworthy chances, as too did the expected Hazard and Costa. The Blues would rack up 11 shots on target to Crystal Palace’s three, but Hennessey was not budging.
Conte had seen enough and decided a tactical switch early in the second half: Willian on for Matic and a switch in formation.
That nearly instantly backfired when Crystal Palace could have put the game to bed, with Puncheon finding Zaha one-on-one with Courtois but this time the Belgian stood tall.
Batshuayi then came on as Crystal Palace looked to defend their lead in the closing quarter of an hour, but Costa nearly broke in from a Hazard cross, but somehow skewed his free header well wide.
Goal-mouth scrambles ensued as Pedro’s cross was hurriedly cleared, but despite the seven injury-time minutes, Chelsea could not find a way back, meaning the visitors claim four straight Premier League wins, a feat last achieved 24 months ago. It also means Sam Allardyce becomes the first manager to win a Premier League match against Chelsea with four different clubs. Conte will be hoping to take revenge against Manchester City, and Pep Guardiola, on Wednesday.
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Man of the Match
CESC FABREGAS: With Willian only just returning from international duty, Fabregas was given the opportunity to be one of the two supporting men for Diego Costa, and the ex-Arsenal ace does not take long to make an impact, does he? Sublime cross-field ball to Hazard that covered the length of the field, and the awareness to get on the end of it was superb. Did cause Crystal Palace problems thereafter, but could not do enough to drag his side back into it. 6/10
Conte felt this was one of those days: “This is football. We must accept this result. We scored our goal after five minutes and then we conceded two in a few minutes. When you concede goals in that way you must understand the situation and improve on these mistakes. In every game in England, anything can happen. The league is so strong.”
Allardyce was pleased his side did not cave in: “I think our performance is typical of what seems to be the character of the side. The determination has shone through. The defence was outstanding, the goalkeeper was outstanding. The game plan worked exceptionally well.”