Chelsea keep up hunt for top four spot with victory over Palace

From BBC - March 10, 2018

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 narrow the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham to two points - at least until Spurs play Bournemouth on Sunday.

Brazil winger Willian opened the scoring for the hosts, aided by a deflection off Palace defender Martin Kelly, with a shot that 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, with the former Liverpool player initially doing well to clear Davide Zappacosta's drive off his own goal line - only for the ball to ricochet off Eagles goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and strike 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 by Manchester City last Sunday for showing a lack of ambition, underlined by his decision play without a centre-forward.

On Saturday, 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 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 France forward from capping his display with his first league goal for the Blues.

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 Willian and Hazard dropped deep to collect the ball.

With neither Christian Benteke nor 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.

Man of the match - Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)

'We deserved to win'

Willian's best return for Chelsea


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