Report: Chelsea 2 Crystal Palace 1

Two first-half goals heralded a return to winning ways in the league with Willian the man who set us on our way once again. 

The Brazilian put us ahead midway through the first half with his 13th goal of an increasingly productive season, and the three points rarely looked in doubt thereafter as we dominated our south London opponents with a high-quality display that was only missing more goals.

It was Martin Kelly who found his own net to double our lead soon after Willian’s opener, and the fact we didn’t score again was a surprise considering the volume of efforts throughout the evening. Olivier Giroud twice came very close to adding a third, with Eden Hazard and Willian also among those denied.

Alexander Sorloth hit a post for Palace and when they did find a way past Thibaut Courtois, it was in the 90th minute and so Patrick van Aanholt’s strike proved nothing more than a consolation.  

So we head to Barcelona with that winning feeling once more. A big week for the Blues has started well.

Antonio Conte responded to the back-to-back defeats in Manchester with four changes from our last outing. In came Gary Cahill in defence, Davide Zappacosta at wing-back, N’Golo Kante in midfield and Giroud, for his first league start, up front. Antonio Rudiger, Victor Moses, Danny Drinkwater and Pedro made way. Named among the substitutes and involved for the first time since his sending off at Watford was the fit-again Tiemoue Bakayoko.

Roy Hodgson kept faith with the same XI that had run Manchester United mighty close on Monday evening. He was able to include Mamadou Sakho and Wilfried Zaha on the bench again after injury.

Before kick-off at an overcast Stamford Bridge, there was a minute’s applause in memory of the achievements of Derek Saunders, who passed away earlier in the week. An ever-present in our championship-winning side of 1955, and later captain of the club, Saunders had recently turned 90. The players wore black armbands in his honour.  

A bright start from the Blues was the order of the day, and the confidence and zip with which we moved the ball about in the opening exchanges was a welcome sight.

Our possession translated into a few early chances, too. Giroud headed over from a Zappacosta cross, and the same man then got the faintest of touches to try and divert Kante’s shot past Wayne Hennessey from close range. The Palace keeper blocked, and Kelly did likewise when the lively Zappacosta cut in and tried his luck.

For Palace, Christian Benteke was left unmarked from a corner before Thibaut Courtois pounced, and Andros Townsend fired narrowly over from 20 yards. That was as close as they came before the break.

Willian had already tried his luck three times by the midway point of the half, without success, and so it was a case of fourth time lucky when he opened the scoring in the 25th minute.

The Brazilian star took Kante’s pass wide on the left and drifted inside into a more central position. He didn’t need a second invitation to shoot, and when he did, a tiny touch off Kelly took it away from Hennessey and into the net, via the left-hand post. Giroud deserves credit for hopping over the effort, while for Willian it’s now five goals in his past five games.

We kept our foot on the accelerator and were rewarded with a second goal shortly after the half-hour. Fabregas spread the play to Alonso, whose clever cross was dummied by Willian and collected by Hazard. He teed up Zappacosta, and though Kelly was on hand to clear off the line, he could only hit Hennessey in front of him and watch on helplessly as the ball ricocheted back off him and in. An ugly ending shouldn’t hide what was a truly fine Chelsea move.

It was so nearly three on the stroke of half-time. More eye-catching interplay between Fabregas, Willian and Hazard left the Belgian in space very close to goal, but he declined to shoot and instead laid it on a plate for Giroud. His shot beat Hennessey and with most of the ground already celebrating, James Tomkins made an exceptional goal-line clearance. This time fortune was on Palace’s side.

Hazard had the ball in the net from the resulting corner but the flag was up and so we headed to the dressing rooms with a merited two-goal lead.

Zaha replaced Benteke before the restart and our advantage was almost halved within a couple of minutes, but thankfully Sorloth smashed his shot against the post after Christensen was dispossessed in a dangerous spot.

We almost punished Palace for their profligacy with a slick third. Another wonderful Willian burst from deep created the chance, and after he had exchanged passes with Giroud only more magnificent last-ditch defending from Tomkins prevented our no.22 notching yet again.

A delicious flick from Giroud set Hazard away and Hennessey with an outstretched leg saved. Then Patrick van Aanholt struck cleanly but straight at Courtois.

Our former defender was booked for fouling Hazard shortly after. From the resulting free-kick, Willian called Hennessey into action, and as play progressed the sliding Zappacosta was denied then Giroud headed over. Willian had created both chances with more wing wizardry. What a joy he has been to watch in recent weeks!

There was concern when he went down after a hefty collision with Tomkins, but happily his pain was short-lived. We were at the midway point of the second half now and this London derby still had an excellent pace to it, with our visitors well aware they had to go for broke.

That meant more and more space to work with. Hazard, on his 200th Premier League appearance, fed Alonso who quickly picked out Giroud. Again a goal seemed certain but this time the right-hand post denied him. So close! The Frenchman was replaced by Alvaro Morata with a little under 20 minutes to play, and could count himself unfortunate not to have opened his league account.  

Sorleth had a goal disallowed as the clock ran down, and there was time for Bakayoko to make a first appearance in five weeks. As we entered the final minute, Van Aanholt in space slotted through Courtois’ legs as we got caught short at the back, but we saw out the additional time with relative ease to make it a happy birthday for the Blues, 113 years on from our founding.

Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill (c); Zappacosta, Kante, Fabregas (Pedro 88), Alonso; Willian, Giroud (Morata 72), Hazard (Bakayoko 88).
Unused subs Caballero, Ampadu, Emerson, Moses.
Scorers Willian 25, Kelly own goal 32
Booked Morata 86

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Hennessey; Wan-Bissaka, Kelly, Tomkins, Van Aanholt; Townsend (Lee 81), McArthur, Milivojevic (c), Schlupp; Benteke (Zaha h/t), Sorloth.
Unused subs Cavalieri, Sakho, Souare, Fosu-Mensah, Riedewald.
Scorer Van Aanholt 90
Booked Van Aanholt 59, Tomkins 86

Referee Anthony Taylor
Crowd 40,800