Fog epitomise dullness and lethargy, so was the characteristics of the game before the pinup man Diego Costa broke the deadlock just before half-time to hand Chelsea the lead at the foggy Selhurst Park.
When it looked like that the foggy encounter is a cage and Chelsea are heading towards a draw, Costa came like a key to score Chelsea’s first headed goal of this season. As Chelsea got their 11 consecutive win this season, boss Antonio Conte and Costa deserve eulogy as they are the main pivots of Chelsea plucking out results out of nothing. Chelsea dominated the possession from the first half, but Palace also played well.
On the silver lining of three points, as the bane of the match, Costa and N’Golo Kante became unavailable for upcoming Bournemouth clash. Though Chelsea displayed near-perfect defence, today’s match exposed that the best way to beat Chelsea defence is to break via Alonso’s wing. Conte will need to fix that. Willian was killing some counters, so Conte made a brilliant tactical change by subbing him and bringing Fabregas on as the Blues reverted to 3-5-1-1 from 3-4-3. Chelsea’s second half mantra was- defend in numbers and soak up the pressure, put Fabregas up and step up a gear.
The difference of the match was, when Chelsea had the ball higher up the pitch, their decision making was extremely good whereas Palace was poor in the attacking third, though they forced Chelsea to park the bus for some time. On 14th December, 2015, Leicester were on the top of the league with Chelsea being 14th. On this day, 2016, Chelsea are on 1st and the Foxes are on 14th. As Chelsea are looking hands down favourites to win the Title, this match seemed like a tribute to Mourinho’ circa 2004-06, multitude of 1-0 wins. Chelsea are playing like upgraded version of West Brom, solid defence and executor upfront.
Let’s take a look at how the Blues fared.
Thibaut Courtois ( 6.5/10): Had 10th clean sheet of the season. Didn’t have a match-winning save to do a la Sunderland match but was good. Stopped Benteke’s shot, was confident in claiming crosses.
Gary Cahill (7.5/10): Solid once again as he won 100% attempted tackles (4 in the match), made three crucial interceptions and four clearances. The skipper headed away incoming deliveries as well. Should have scored from Alonso’s free-kick though.
David Luiz (6.5/10) : Good performance overall.
Cesar Azpilicueta ( 8 /10) : Incredible. Provided Costa the assist with an outstanding and clever cross from the right. Had Chelsea’s first shot on target with an ambitious 25 yarder. Headed away an in swinging Palace free-kick to clear danger. Stats: 67 Touches, 52 Passes – 86.5% accuracy, 2 Key passes, one assist.
Nemanja Matic ( 6.5/10) : The defensive midfielder was in his usual elements as his accurate passes were crucial in build-up play.
N’Golo Kante (7.5/10) : Got booked, forced to make Hennessey a brilliant save from his 25 yarder as the midfielder is making a habit of venturing good on target shots on goal. Very good again. Cleared, blocked, intercepted and attacked.
Marcos Alonso (6.5 /10) : Smacked a brilliant free-kick which got off the bar, Cahill should have scored from the rebound. Defensively weak a bit, but put in good balls. Alonso showed he can curl it but missed a golden scoring opportunity.
Victor Moses ( 7/10) : Received standing ovation, combined well with team-mates. Cut inside well, found teammates with his decent deliveries. Another solid performance.
Eden Hazard ( 8/10) : Great touches, great ball control, great attacking influence. His stats will speak louder than words: 100% dribbles completed 87% pass accuracy 54 touches 7 dribbles 4 fouls won 2 chances created, 7 take-ons attempted(more than the entire Crystal Palace team). Brilliant.
Willian ( 6.5 /10) : Poor on the counter but overall good.
Diego Costa ( 8.5 /10) : Man of the match. Scored his 50th Chelsea goal. Showed outstanding jump and awareness as he scored the header. Got booked though. His stats: 2 take-ons,2 clearances, 2 shots, 1 goal
Cesc Fabregas (8 /10) : Bossed the midfield from the word ‘go’. Almost got himself an assist within 12 seconds of coming to the pitch. Gave Alonso a peach of a ball from which Alonso should have scored. Shot well from Hazard’s cut-back.
Here are the links of highlights of the match