Blues hit Eagles for four as they return to top four of Premier League
By Paul Lagan at Selhurst Park
Crystal Palace 1 v Chelsea 4
Christian Pulisic netted a brace and goals from Kai Havertz and Kurt Zouma put Chelsea back into fourth place in the Premier League following their 4-1 thumping of South London neighbours Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park this evening.
It was a commanding performance from the west Londoners - especially in the first half which was as close to footballing perfection as it was possible to get and a massive antidote to last week’s 5-2 humiliation, at home to WBA.
With half a nod to Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against Porto, in mind, head coach Thomas Tuchel made a number of changes - in particular dropping misfiring Timo Werner to the bench.
Palace boss Roy Hodgson will have been bemused and frustrated by the first half performance of his charges which saw them leak three goals. Their inability to close down the opposition’s space and general lack of energy could have cost them even more goals.
They played better in the second 45 minutes, but it was easily too little, far too late to alter the inevitable outcome.
The Blues started very well, aggressive on the ball, crisp one-touch passing, forcing the Eagles to retreat deep to the edges of their penalty area.
Despite desperate please from the Eagles bench to “push out”, it proved difficult as the away side retained possession of the ball.
Vincent Guaita made an excellent save from Kai Havertz on nine minutes, with the German striker unlucky with his close range flick from a Mason Mount cross.
But within a two minute spell, Chelsea had taken a deserved two-gol lead. First Havertz cooly slotted home a curling left footer, on 10 minutes, then 60 seconds later, Christen Pulisic produced a rasper that flashed into the top of the Palace net.
It took the Eagles 22 minutes to venture into Chelsea’s half under their own steam, such was the total dominance of the ball by the west Londoners.
Havertz almost scored a wonder goal on 24 minutes, latching onto a long ball in the opposition penalty area, he lofted it over a defender before letting fire with a low volley. The ball wasn't sweetly hit and was cleared off the line.
Kurt Zouma almost added the third from a Mount corner but the ball took a slight deflection on the way.
But he made no mistake on 32 minutes. He latched onto a Mount free-kick from the left and headed the perfect thumper into the back of the Palace net to make it 3-0.
When Jorginho gave a pass away in midfield, Palace pounced and Christian Benteke raced into the Chelsea area on the right. But his cutback was intercepted by Toni Rudiger and the rare, but singular threat was extinguished. Patrick Van Aanholt cleared a Rudiger header off the line as the Blues went in search of a fourth on 36 minutes.
There was no changes by either side at half-time. It was the Blues who could have scored a fourth a minute into the restart.
Ben Chilwell cut through the Palace defence on the left. However he opted to shoot from a tight angle when a simple square pass would have set up Havertz who was free at the far post.
But with insistent persuasion from the Eagles dugout by assistant manager Ray Lewington to put the Blues under pressure, the home side started to get some traction in the game.
To counter this, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel replaced Jorginho with N’Golo Kante on 60 minutes.
But that had the opposite effect for the west Londoners because the home side decided to go up the other end and score. Belgium marksman Benteke tucking home after 63 minutes to reduce the deficit to two.
Chelsea had a chance on 72 minutes when a quick break saw Mount chase clear. He left fly from just inside the Palace penalty area, but ex-Blue Gary Cahill expertly blocked the low drive.
Reece James was the next Blue to enter the fray on 75 minutes. Hudson-Odoi made way.
James’s influence was instant as his first touch saw a byline cross met perfectly by in-running Pulisic, who tucked home from close range to restore the three-goal margin on 78 m(mutes.
The third substitution saw Hakim Ziyech come on with Kovacic on 81 minutes.
The Blues opted to see out the final nine minutes and Palace had run out of steam and desire.
Teams: Chelsea, Mendy, Rudiger, Jorginho, Pulisic, Zouma, Kovacic, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Chilwell, Azpilicueta, Havertz,
subs: Kepa, Alonso, Kante, Abraham, Werner, Giroud, Ziyech, James, Emerson
Crystal Palace, Guaita, Ward, Van Aanholt, Milivojevic, Kouyate, Ayew, Zaha, Benteke, Cahill, Eze, Riedewald
Subs, Butland, Dann, Townsend, Mateta, Schlupp, McCarthy, Mitchell, Kelly, Rak-Sakai
Referee, Michael Oliver