Chelsea deserved the luck that came their way as they dominated much of the game against a Crystal Palace side who remain in the relegation zone. Willian’s opener was followed by a Martin Kelly own goal to give the Blues a 2-goal lead at the break but the Eagles produced a much better second half display and came close to snatching a point at Stamford Bridge after Patrick Van Aanholt got them back in the game.
Antonio Conte opted to start with a recognised striker in the form of Olivier Giroud after creating almost nothing last week at the Etihad. The tactical switch allowed the Blues to sustain more meaningful attacks and the Frenchman was extremely unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. He came close to opening the scoring but couldn’t get enough contact on N’Golo Kante’s shot to divert it past Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal.
Davide Zappacosta was getting so much joy down the right-hand side because Roy Hodgson’s strikers were not helping their team out defensively and the Italian wasn’t shy in having a few attempts at goal. Another man who wasn’t afraid to have a shot was Andros Townsend and his spectacular volley soared just over the bar from the edge of the area but that just seemed to light the touchpaper for Chelsea who went on to dominate the rest of the half.
They broke the deadlock when Willian ventured in from the left and hit a low shot that deflected off Martin Kelly and found its way past Hennessey at his near post. That was the Brazilian’s fifth goal in as many games as he continues to be Chelsea’s brightest attacking spark. Their lead was doubled just minutes later and it was a free-flowing move that didn’t have the picture-perfect finish to it but Antonio Conte won’t care. Giroud, Willian and Eden Hazard combined to set up Zappacosta inside the penalty box and his shot was blocked by Kelly on the goal-line before ricocheting off Hennessey and back onto Kelly before rolling into the net.
It was a move from the left that opened up the visitors yet again but this time it didn’t result in a goal for the Blues as Olivier Giroud’s close range shot was superbly cleared off the line by James Tomkins. The ball was back in the net from the resulting corner when Eden Hazard converted off a Hennessey save but the Belgian was stood offside at the time of Zappacosta’s original shot and the goal was chalked off. Chelsea cruised through the first half but things weren’t so straightforward after the break.
The Blues continued to create chances but didn’t look as secure defensively with Andreas Christensen setting a nervy tone when he was caught in possession in his own area and Alexander Sorloth crashed a shot off the post. Willian went close with two more attempts, the first was blocked by the diving Tomkins before his free kick was kept out by Hennessey. Zappacosta had a shot blocked from right in front of the goal by Aaron Wan-Bissaka before Olivier Giroud hit the post with his right foot shot before slicing the rebound well wide.
Sorloth thought he’d pulled a late goal back when he rifled one in after Chelsea failed to deal with Andros Townsend’s free kick but the referee Taylor ruled the goal out for a foul in the build-up. It was a soft one to say the least and I can only presume it was down to Jairo Riedeweld lifting his foot towards Gary Cahill’s head just before Sorloth fired his shot past Thibaut Courtois. Courtois did lose his clean sheet as the board went up for stoppage time when Wilfried Zaha found Patrick Van Aahnholt and the former Chelsea man slotted his effort past the Belgian goalkeeper.
Relative comfort turned into a nail-biting finish for the Stamford Bridge crowd but the hosts managed to secure the victory and moved within two points of fourth-placed Tottenham before their game against Bournemouth on Sunday. The win was a fitting way to celebrate Chelsea Football Club’s 113th birthday but Antonio Conte will have already turned his focus towards the Nou Camp and Barcelona as the Catalan giants lie in wait in the Champions League.