BY ROB SUTHERLAND
Crystal Palace fell to an in-form Chelsea side thanks to goals from striker Tammy Abraham and midfielder Christian Pulisic in a game that saw the Eagles on the back foot for the majority of the match.
Abraham opened the scoring early in the second half when a pass from Mateo Kovacic was directed into Abraham’s path by Willian. The England international calmly placed the ball past Vicente Guaita to put the hosts in the lead.
Chelsea followed up with a second goal from American midfielder Pulisic in the 79th minute when a deflected Michy Batshuayi effort was easily headed into the net.
Palace had looked like a side lacking in inventiveness and ideas for much of the game, and while such an approach might be fine at 0-0, it became all the more exposed when the home side took the lead. While the Eagles tried to find an equaliser, doing so left gaps in the backline and it was one of those which Chelsea exploited for their second goal.
Roy Hodgson’s side had just two chances all game. The first, a header from James Tomkins at the back post, was tamely placed wide of the post when it looked easier to score. It would have been an undeserved equaliser had it gone in. The second, at 2-0 down, saw a weak shot from James McCarthy easily saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Palace’s hopes rested upon the shoulders of Wilfried Zaha but the winger, who has been out of sorts for much of the opening half of the season, struggled to deal with the strength of full-back Reece James. Frustration grew during the opening half and Zaha received a yellow card after a number of fouls. That infuriated Zaha further and referee Mike Dean had to intervene, drawing the attention of captain Luka Milivojevic when Zaha continued to argue his case.
The fact that the Eagles hadn’t conceded prior to Abraham’s goal was down to both resolute defending and profligate finishing from the home side. In Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Willian, the Blues have players that can open up even the most resolute of defences — but Palace stood firm.
There had been an early taster of what was to follow from kick off, with Brazilian midfielder Willian driving towards Palace’s goal. He sent a pass out wide to James, whose cross had to be palmed away by a stretching Vicente Guaita.
The Spanish goalkeeper had a busy first half. He followed that early save up with another a little later in the game; Willian was once again Chelsea’s pivot as he placed the ball out wide for Pulisic. Chelsea’s summer recruit took a few touches, cut inside and saw his shot saved at the front post.
The Eagles struggled to get a grip on Chelsea’s intricate play, and it showed in the sheer number of free-kicks Palace gave away on the edge of the box. Willian, Mount and Emerson each took turns, only to see their attempts go wide or over the bar.
Chelsea’s first-half dominance looked like it might get a breakthrough when a late cross into the box from James saw Guaita make a diving save, with Gary Cahill following up with a block to prevent a deficit before half-time. But that defensive resoluteness would ultimately count for little with Chelsea’s goals coming in the second half.
Roy Hodgson will welcome the international break. Joel Ward went off in the first half due to a knock and Zaha spent the final minutes of the match limping. With a number of frustrating defeats in a row, Palace would do well to consider a change in approach. A two-week break might offer such an opportunity.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD