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TOP-four chasing Chelsea travelled to Selhurst Park in a rich vein of form having won five out of their last six Premier League matches, which included wins against both Manchester City and Leicester City along the way.
Therefore, their 3-2 victory on Tuesday night against a Crystal Palace team who are without a single point or goal within their last three games may not have come as a surprise to many, but this was by no means a walk in the park for the Blues.
The away side took the lead after five minutes when a Reece James-ball down the line was quickly latched on to by Willian. The Brazilian sprinted down the outside of Gary Cahill but, as the former Chelsea defender turned to give chase, he immediately pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury, allowing the Chelsea wide-man to run into the Palace box unopposed.
Having been afforded all of the time in the world to find a teammate, Willian used it expertly to square the ball to the incoming Olivier Giroud who slotted the low cross past Vicente Guaita into the net.
Despite the away side’s early goal, Palace were still carrying an attacking threat with a good flowing move between Patrick Van Aanholt, James McArthur and Wilfried Zaha ending in the Ivorian’s cross having to be turned away for a corner by Andreas Christensen as Christian Benteke looked to pounce for an equaliser.
It was actually a failed Crystal Palace attack on 27 minutes that led to Chelsea’s second goal. Cheikhou Kouyate’s attempted through ball, that would have sent Ayew clear of the Blues back-line, was blocked by Christensen.
The ball fell to Willian who ran straight at the heart of the Palace defence, played a neat one-two with Giroud before laying the ball wide to Christian Pulisic. The American skipped past his marker Joel Ward and smashed an unstoppable left-foot shot beyond Guaita which beat him at his near post.
The home side did not drop their heads however and pulled a goal back on 34 minutes when Zaha picked up a loose ball 30 yards out and hit an absolute screamer past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Frank Lampard’s men seemed to have wrapped up the game on 71 minutes when substitutes Rueben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abrahams combined on the break to set up the latter to make it 3-1 to the away side. Loftus-Cheek’s cutely dinked through ball found the England u21 striker in space just inside the penalty area and his accurately placed shot across Guaita deflected off the far post and into the net.
Palace however wasted no time in once again pegging back their opponents. Almost straight from the restart, Van Aanholt exchanged passes down the left with Ayew and Mcarthur before collecting the Scots pass inside Chelsea’s penalty area and squaring the ball to an unmarked Benteke, who had the simple task of tapping the ball home from 2 yards out.
A Scott Dann injury-time header, which could only find Chelsea’s upright before being cleared from danger, summed up the home team’s luck, while also symbolising how closely contested this match turned out to be.
After the match, Palace boss Roy Hodgson thought his boys were unlucky not to get something out of the game. “The players deserve to be pleased with their performance” he suggested, a sentiment most would have agreed with.
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