I’ve said it before, these 12:30 games can really go one of two ways. On the one hand, you have the chance to really lay down a marker to the sides around if you’re able to tally up three points. On the other hand, if you drop points the teams around you can smell fresh blood and may amp up their efforts to catch you. Palace have already demonstrated their ability to compete with the big sides this season, having notched up a good away win at Old Trafford, so Chelsea would have to be sharp to beat them.
The pre-game minutes silenced was generally well observed by both sets off fans except for a voice coming out of the Crystal Palace away area. The events team at Stamford Bridge had done a brilliant job in ensuring the appropriate displays were around the pitch and stadium in order to ensure our troops were given the respect they deserve.
One of the key questions heading into this game was how would Chelsea cope without their midfield talisman Jorginho? Thankfully, Mateo Kovačić was more than up to the challenge and in the young side that Frank Lampard put out, he really did step up to the mark and looked like the senior and experienced player he is.
The first half was completely dominated by Chelsea but with very few real chances created by either side. Palace barely mustered an attack but Chelsea were unable to make them pay for their lack of ambition. Christian Pulisic continued to impress on the left wing with his tricky dribbling which had Joel Ward sliding all over the place.
César Azpilicueta found himself consigned to the bench for the very first time in 73 matches. It was a bold move from Lampard to do this with Jorginho suspended as the Spaniard and Italian are the two obvious leaders in the squad. Reece James, despite being only 19 years old, put in a fantastic shift at right back. Up against Wilfried Zaha, he contained him excellently and despite being a notoriously physical winger, James bossed him throughout the game. All in all, Zaha was left reeling from a quite torrid day in the office.
Despite not being able to score in the first half, it was refreshing to see nobody in the concourse at half time even remotely panicking. After all, this is the third Premier League home game in a row where the Blues have failed to score in the first half. The fans obvious faith in the team didn’t take long to pay off in the second-half, some good dribbling by Kovačić through the Palace midfield saw him find Willian on the edge of the box. The latter’s flick to Abraham saw him one-on-one with the Palace keeper, opening up his body, he finished excellent into the back of the net.
Palace did come close shortly after, but James Tomkins was unable to get his header on target. Christian Pulisic, with four goals in his previoius two Premier League games managed to get on the end of a deflected Michy Batshuayi shot, heading beyond the outstretched Guaita. The joy in his face from scoring his first goal at Stamford Bridge was clear for all to see.
With the game out of Palace’s control, Billy Gilmour was brought on for Pulisic to ensure control in the midfield. The rest of the crowd, in a jubilant mood at this point, took the opportunity to applaud Gary Cahill. A player whom despite being at the club for seven years and winning quite literally everything, wasn’t given a proper send off.
Once again I’m going to find myself talking about the referee in this game. I’ve never been a huge fan of Mike Dean again I find myself being critical of his refereeing performance yesterday. I think one of the biggest problems with refereeing at the moment is consistency, both between them and in individual games. What is a card for one foul will often not be matched a few minutes later and this was the case again yesterday.
A player who has had his fair share of critics for several years. Since being handed the number 10 shirt, he’s really stepped up and is playing some of his best football. In the absence of Azpilicueta, it was Willian who was handed the captains armband and he was unlucky not to score from a couple of close free kicks.
Gap for the Top 4
Again, it’s been another weekend where our rivals for the Top 4 have fallen further behind. Tottenham drew 1-1 at home to Sheffield, whilst Arsenal were beaten 2-0 by Leicester. As it stands, Chelsea have a nine point gap over Arsenal, an unprecedentedly high number given the Gunners were five points ahead after just two games. The Blue’s have put themselves in a good position ahead of a difficult away trip to Manchester City after the international break.
All in all, I’d say this was the perfect start to the weekend for Chelsea.