Chelsea took another step towards Champions League qualification with a nervy 3-2 victory against Crystal Palace.
Passive defending, so often the downfall of Frank Lampard’s youthful team, nearly cost them again as they surrendered control of a game they appeared to have wrapped up after just 30 minutes. Racing into a two-goal lead courtesy of Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic, the game was turned on its head by a moment of magic by Wilfred Zaha. The Ivorian winger, who has struggled for form this season, smashed home from 29 yards out to halve the deficit and dramatically change the tempo of the game.
Palace began to dominate possession, but as has so often been the case since the restart, Chelsea’s substitutes made the desired impact.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek strode forward on the break before picking out Tammy Abraham who side-footed his effort into the bottom corner. Palace replied almost immediately, however, with Christian Benteke tapping into an empty net after good work by former Blue Patrick Van-Aanholt. Chelsea held out for the victory but only once Kepa Arrizabalaga had tipped Scott Dann’s header on to the post very late on.
Here’s how we rated the Chelsea players after the game:
Kepa Arrizabalaga - 6.5
People find it very easy to level criticism at Kepa and whilst for the most part it’s vindicated, in regards to Zaha’s goal, the pace and power of the shot would have beaten any goalkeeper irrespective of their positioning. He produced a fantastic save to deny Scott Dann at the death.
Reece James - 5
Whilst many looked at Kepa’s positioning, the blame for Zaha’s goal should lay squarely with James. The youngster continued to struggle in possession and by gifting the ball back to Palace, he allowed them to catch Chelsea’s midfield in transition. Palace targeted him in the second-half and found a lot of joy when creating overloads.
Andreas Christensen - 5
He was caught flat-footed by Van Aanholt with runners able to collect the ball and spin in behind. Inconsistency continues to plague The Dane.
Kurt Zouma - 7
Allowed Palace’s forwards too much time on the ball. His passing range was limited and he struggled to play out of the press. His last man tackle was a game-saving moment though and for that, he deserves a lot of praise.
Cesar Azpilicueta - 7
The most composed member of Chelsea’s backline, he kept the ball well under pressure and engaged his marker.
Ross Barkley - 6
Held on to the ball well, drawing fouls and recycling possession. Struggled with Palace’s quick transitions in the second-half. Put in some crucial defensive blocks, but was withdrawn for the more mobile Loftus-Cheek.
Billy Gilmour - 5
Didn’t look comfortable with Palace’s aggressive press and his tendency to drop deep rather than engage the ball played into the Eagles’ hands.
Mason Mount - 5
Struggled to make his mark on the game, with Palace’s aggression in the midfield taking advantage of Mount’s slight physique.
Willian - 8
An all-action display from the Brazilian who, on top of providing two assists, was persistent in his defensive work. Winning the ball back from deep and receiving it on the turn, he drove Chelsea forward especially when Palace began to gain control of the midfield battle.
Olivier Giroud - 7
His layoffs were cushioned and this attracted the attention of Palace’s defence allowing Chelsea to produce overloads out wide. Another smart piece of movement to meet Willian’s cut back and open the scoring.
Christian Pulisic - 8.5
Drifted in off both flanks, dragging Joel Ward infield. He and Willian interchanged superbly, popping up in the vacated space and in Pulisic’s case, finding the back of the net. Faded in the second half as Chelsea struggled to retain possession.
Tammy Abraham – 7: A really smart finish from a well-timed run. Offered mobility on the break. So nearly cost his side all three points with a sloppy pass when he tried to take the ball to the byline.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – 6: Didn’t see much of the ball but when he did, he used it well. Showed great vision to pick out the run of Abraham.
Jorginho – 8: Got hold of the ball and completely changed the momentum of the game. Chelsea were able to dictate the tempo and grind out the result.