Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park in today’s early Premier League kick off, sealing their 11th consecutive top flight victory. Diego Costa headed in the winning goal just before half-time at Selhurst Park, keeping the pressure on their title rivals by sending the Blues nine points clear at the top of the table.
Despite Chelsea’s intimidating run of form, the hosts started well by not showing their visitors too much respect, who took time to settle. But a quarter of an hour into the clash and the crowd were treated to their first glimpse of Eden Hazard at speed. The Belgium winger played a beautiful one-two with Willian on the edge of the box, but was blocked by Joel Ward before he could threaten Wayne Hennessey’s goal. Ward was shown a yellow card, and David Luiz, as has been the norm since his arrival in the summer, stepped up for the free kick, but his low effort bounced off the man responsible for the set piece and away for a corner.
The Eagles, though, had started the game well and should have taken the lead a couple of minutes after Luiz’s weak strike. James McArthur played Martin Kelly in on the right flank, and the defender’s cross was delivered invitingly into the path of Jason Puncheon. The attacking midfielder should really have done better, failing to get clean contact on the ball as his effort rolled wide of the far post. Palace were organised defensively, not allowing Chelsea the time and space to move forward with pace, thereby frustrating Hazard, Diego Costa and Willian in the final third. To add to the Blues’ frustration, Costa picked up his fifth booking of the campaign, little over 20 minutes into the top flight contest, for a challenge on Joe Ledley.
It means Antonio Conte’s leading goal-scorer will miss the meeting with Bournemouth on Boxing Day. But, two minutes from half-time, Chelsea’s quality eventually got the better of the hosts. Cesar Azpilicueta spotted the run of Costa behind the Eagles’ defence from deep and sent a simple ball over their back line, onto the head of the former Atletico Madrid man. His leap was timed to perfection, leaving Hennessey with no hope of keeping the score line level. It was a bitter blow for the home side, who had kept their title-leading opponents quite for much of the opening 45 minutes. The Eagles had the better of the possession for the opening 15 minutes of the second period, with Chelsea seemingly content to sit back.
Thibaut Courtois, though, was still yet to be tested, thanks to the resolute defence in front of him and a lack of movement from Palace’s forwards. N’Golo Kante, frustratingly, picked up a booking with an hour on the clock, joining Costa in being ruled out of their clash with Bournemouth. Conte won’t have been satisfied by the lack of threat from his troops and 65 minutes in decided to throw Cesc Fabregas into action, calling time on Willian’s afternoon. Only seconds after Fabregas had stepped onto the pitch, he created an opening on goal for Marcos Alonso. His cross, though, was delivered with too much power and the left back failed to get control ball, and Palace were able to clear their lines.
The former Arsenal midfielder’s introduction certainly had an impact on his side’s attacking intent, as the game started to become stretched. Palace simply didn’t look like scoring, and were fortunate not to have gone two goals down with little under 10 minutes to go when Marcos Alonso rattled the underside of the crossbar from a free kick. Into the final five minutes and the three points appeared wrapped up for the Blues, despite the narrow lead. It’s their 11th consecutive triumph in the Premier League, equalling a club record run of straight wins in the top flight, and the third game in a row that they’ve sealed a 1-0 win… the mark of champions?