Win over Eagles anchors Chelsea
Blues grab lead in dying moments of lacklustre first half to solidify their top position in Premier League
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea consolidated their position at the summit of the Premier League standings as Diego Costa’s 13th goal of the campaign secured a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park yesterday.
The encounter started at a fairly cautious pace, with neither side willing to commit too many men in attack in the opening exchanges.
In fact, there was very little in the way of goalmouth action in a low-key opening half-hour, with both goalkeepers becoming nothing more than spectators for large passages of play.
The first chance of note arrived on 18 minutes, when Joel Ward brought down Eden Hazard on the edge of the Palace box. Brazilian centre-back David Luiz stepped up to take the resulting free kick, but saw his driven effort deflected behind for a corner.
The Eagles hit back with a chance of their own just two minutes later, as Jason Puncheon fired wide of the left-hand post after being teed up by Martin Kelly.
Having miraculously avoided a booking for his last 11 appearances, Costa eventually picked up his fifth of the campaign in the 22nd minute, following a clumsy challenge on Joe Ledley.
As such, the Spain international will miss the clash with Bournemouth on Boxing Day.
There was very little else to speak of as the first half wore on, with Crystal Palace doing well to keep the shackles on Costa and company.
However, as a lacklustre first half drew to a close, the Blues grabbed the lead with the game’s first shot on target.
César Azpilicueta sent in a hanging cross from deep, and Costa rose magnificently above his marker before sending a looping header into the bottom right corner.
Thankfully, there was a marked improvement from both teams after the half-time interval, with Palace in particular forced to adopt a more attacking approach as they went in search of the equaliser.
The hosts very nearly got the breakthrough they were looking for after just two minutes of play, but Thibaut Courtois was alert to the danger, keeping out Yohan Cabaye’s goal-bound effort.
Chelsea posted a response just three minutes later, but it came to nothing as Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey did well to snap up N’Golo Kanté’s stinging shot from outside the area.
Kanté would go on to collect his yellow card of the campaign, though, before efforts from Marcos Alonso and substitute Cesc Fàbregas failed to find the back of the net.
The Blues continued to pile on the pressure, as efforts from Kanté and Alonso again tested Hennessey, who was single-handedly keeping his side in the contest.
However, the Eagles were lucky not to concede a second goal in the 85th minute, when the marauding Alonso struck the crossbar with a dipping free kick from the edge of the box.
Chelsea were not made to rue that missed opportunity, though, as they saw out the remaining minutes with relative ease, stretching their winning run to 11 games and consigning Palace to an eighth defeat in 11 Premier League fixtures.
– TEAMtalk Media
INTENSE N’Golo Kanté of Chelsea (left) tries to dispossess Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace during their Premier League match at Selhurst Park yesterday