Chelsea revived their hopes of a top four Premier League finish as they got back to winning ways with a victory over lowly Crystal Palace.
The Blues remain fifth but their win saw Antonio Conte’s team close the gap on fourth placed Tottenham to two points – at least until Spurs play Bournemouth on Sunday.
Brazilian winger Willian, 29, opened the scoring for the hosts and was aided by a deflection off Palace defender Martin Kelly, as the ball crept inside the left-hand post.
Chelsea spurned several excellent openings before doubling their advantage, again thanks to significant chunk of good fortune. Kelly, was again involved.
The former Liverpool player initially did well to clear Davide Zappacosta’s drive off his own goal line but the ball ricocheted off Eagles goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and struck Kelly before entering the net.
Eden Hazard had a goal disallowed for offside and Chelsea’s profligacy threatened to give Roy Hodgson’s team a route back into the match.
Patrick van Aanholt’s late goal briefly raised their hopes but Conte’s side held on with Palace remaining in the bottom three.
Chelsea back in business
After defeats to both Manchester clubs had weakened their grip on a Champions League place, this represented a welcome three points for Chelsea, who dominated proceedings from start to finish.
Conte had been heavily criticised in the aftermath of their defeat against Manchester City last Sunday, for showing a lack of ambition, which was underlined by his decision play without a centre forward.
Here though, the return of Olivier Giroud – starting his third game for the Blues since his transfer from Arsenal in January – provided a welcome focal point.
It also released Eden Hazard to occupy his customary position on the left of a considerably more fluent Chelsea attack that was bolstered by Willian’s strong running.
Only miraculous defending from James Tomkins prevented the French forward from capping his display with his first league goal for Chelsea.
Giroud continued in the same vein after the break, posing a threat and linking with Chelsea’s midfield until his withdrawal.
Tellingly when Conte did decide to withdraw him, he retained the shape of his team by introducing another forward in the form of Alvaro Morata. By the time his team conceded a late goal they had peppered the Palace goal with 27 shots and more than merited their win.
Formation backfires on Palace
Chelsea capitalised on Roy Hodgson’s decision to deploy a conventional 4-4-2 formation. Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante controlled the central areas against the visitors who were also outnumbered when Brazilian winger Willian and Eden Hazard dropped deep to collect the ball.
With neither Christian Benteke or Alexander Sorloth offering any support, it left James McArthur and Luka Milivojevic badly exposed and unable to get close enough to apply any pressure onto their opposite numbers.
The hosts enjoyed 68.5% possession in the first half en-route to establishing a two-goal advantage.
In contrast the visitors, who were profligate when they did gain possession of the ball, mustered just two efforts on the Chelsea goal and both missed the target.
Despite a late rally, draws against West Ham and Newcastle now seem an age ago for the Eagles.
Their relative success in both those fixtures was anchored to fielding a five-man midfield, and supporting a lone forward with pace in the form of Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha.
Since the decision to utilise a second central striker, they have suffered four consecutive defeats, losing to Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and now Chelsea.
Man of the match – Cesc Fabregas Chelsea
Willian’s best return for Chelsea
- Chelsea posted 27 shots in this game; their most in a Premier League game this season and since May 21st 2017 vs Sunderland (28).
- Chelsea have now conceded just five goals in their last 10 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge.
- Crystal Palace have won just two points in their last seven Premier League matches (W0 D2 L5).
- This was the 10th game this season that Wilfried Zaha hasn’t started for Crystal Palace in the Premier League – they haven’t won a single point in any of these games.
- Willian has now scored 13 goals for Chelsea in all competitions this season – his best ever return in a single campaign for the club.
- Willian has had a hand in 17 goals in his last 18 starts for Chelsea in all competitions (12 goals, 5 assists).
- Olivier Giroud posted an xG total of 1.81 in this game from seven shots – this is the most by a player that has failed to score in a game in the Premier League this season. Giroud’s xG total of 1.81 is also higher than every other team to have played in the Premier League today bar Leicester City (1.83).
- Patrick van Aanholt’s consolation goal for Palace was the 800th scored in the Premier League this season.
Chelsea travel to Barcelona on Wednesday in the Champions League to play the second leg of their last-16 tie (kick-off 19:45 GMT). The first game ended in a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Conte’s team return to domestic action on Sunday 18 March when they face Leicester City in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in the East Midlands (16:30 GMT), their fourth game away from home in the last five.
Crystal Palace are out of the FA Cup but they are in league action next weekend when they play Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday (15:00 GMT).