Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League was cut to seven points after falling to a surprise 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace.
The game could not have begun better for the Blues, with Cesc Fabregas firing home off the inside of the post after just four minutes following some excellent build-up play from Eden Hazard. But they undid all their good early work almost immediately through two pieces of ponderous defending.
First, Wilfried Zaha was allowed time to turn and fire a low shot past Thibaut Courtois on nine minutes, before some indecision from David Luiz resulted in Christian Benteke giving the visitors an improbable lead just two minutes later.
Chelsea set up camp in their opponents’ half, but found Wayne Hennessey in inspired form. The goalkeeper saved brilliantly from Diego Costa, Hazard and Willian among others, but also relied on some fortunate bounces of the ball. The hosts kept pressing for an equaliser, but once Costa headed past the post with the goal gaping late on the game was up.
There was never any lack of belief, as the team chased the game right until the final whistle. Chances were continuously created and it was only a lack of cutting edge that saw Chelsea defeated.
The slack defending that allowed Palace to score twice in quick succession fatally undermined Chelsea’s ambitions and was particularly worrying to see, with Manchester City visiting Stamford Bridge in midweek. Suddenly, there is some undue pressure on the result of that game.
7 — Antonio Conte slightly tweaked his preferred formation to include Fabregas in a 3-5-2 before switching to a 4-2-4 and almost a 2-4-4 as the game entered its final throes. Tried everything — including attacking substitutions — to change the match without success.
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 — Was left flat-footed for Zaha’s goal and committed himself a little early to allow Benteke to score. Made slight amends with an excellent save when one-on-one with his fellow Belgium international in the second half.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 6 — Contributed to the hesitancy that allowed Zaha to score. Didn’t use the ball in advanced positions as well as he could have.
DF David Luiz, 5 — Put in a rare poor performance, as he has otherwise been a revelation this season. Was partly culpable for Palace’s first and dithered before falling over in the build-up to the match-winning goal.
DF Gary Cahill 6 — Was another player who failed to act decisively to prevent Zaha from scoring. Improved in the second half with crucial interventions, including earning a booking while preventing a rare Palace counter-attack.
MF Marcos Alonso, 7 — Spent most of the game attacking, with his quick feet helping to create space. Delivered some nice crosses without reward.
MF Pedro Rodriguez, 7 — Started at wing-back, but also played as a winger and a left-back as the match progressed. Contributed in each role without ever doing anything truly decisive.
MF Nemanja Matic, 6 — Ticked the play over decently enough, but also gave the ball away too often in the first half to have a positive impact. Was understandably the first player to be withdrawn.
MF N’Golo Kante, 6 — Had little ball-winning to do with his team dominating possession. Given that distribution is one of the areas of his game that is lacking, this was not the type of match for him to shine.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 7 — Took his goal well and drew another good save from Hennessey. Was the conductor of the orchestra without being able to extract a consistent tune from his teammates.
FW Eden Hazard, 8 — Created the opening goal out of nothing and proceeded to conjure up several more chances, none of which were taken. Fizzled out a little as the game drew to a close, but did more than any other Chelsea player to try to alter their fortunes.
FW Diego Costa, 5 — Was unlucky to see his close-range shot saved by Hennessey, but was guilty of being absent when several inviting low crosses were fired across the six-yard box. Missed a gilt-edged header when it would have been easier to score.
FW Willian, 6 — Supplied energy, but could not provide the final ball required to make the difference.
FW, Michy Batshuayi, N/R — Showed decent movement, but was never presented with a chance in front of goal.
FW, Ruben Loftus-Cheek N/R — Had minimal touches of the ball after being introduced in stoppage time.
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