It wasn't easy. Well, to be fair, nothing's been easy for Chelsea of late. Nevertheless, an industrious 2-1 win over a Crystal Palace side reinvigorated by the arrival of England's resident football succubus, Tony Pulis, has Chelsea in superb position to ascend to the league perch in nine days time.
Today's result, coupled with Arsenal's devastating 6-3 defeat to Manchester City earlier Saturday, means the Blues can snatch the league lead away from Wenger with a win at the Emirates on Dec. 23. And considering the roller coaster Jose and Co. have been riding in recent weeks, that would be some accomplishment.
Saturday represented a chance to erase the supreme frustration stemming from last weekend's disappointing 3-2 loss to Stoke City. The job was largely done, too, though frustration will likely remain a popular word among Chelsea supporters following a performance that was neither good nor bad. It was, simply, a result.
Hey, nobody's complaining. A win was needed, and a win was delivered.
The match started well enough. A somewhat stuttering start was soon forgotten thanks to Fernando Torres' second league goal of the season, coming on 16 minutes. Willian did a majority of the work, the Brazilian cutting in from the left before fizzing a low drive toward goal that Julián Speroni could only parry onto the far post. Torres, in non-Torres style, reacted superbly to the rebound and coolly slotted under Speroni to open the day's scoring.
Time for the vintage Mourinho cruise, then? Not so much. Though there were a handful of proper moves following Torres' opener - even a sprightly shot from Michael Essien - this season's Chelsea is not the Chelsea of Mou lore, and locking down results has been anything but the club's signature in 2013-14. The fear that once accompanied opposition trips to Stamford Bridge is no more.
Of course, that trend continued on Saturday, with Palace refusing to buckle and actually hitting back inside 15 minutes. Marouane Chamakh is doing more than just visiting his hair stylist these days, and he bagged his third goal in three games in the 29th following good work from both Jason Puncheon and Joel Ward. The leveler was kind of hilarious in terms of the defensive ineptitude that led to it. Both Chelsea center-backs were involved, David Luiz doing one of those Coldplay Rush of Blood to the Head things and John Terry reacting far too late to Chamakh's run. Fun times.
Thankfully Chelsea, rather than sulk, decided this was in fact ridiculous and restored their lead within six minutes. Eden Hazard, the mercurial magician that he is, cut in from the left and laid off for Ramires, who in turn screwed a wonderful strike into the left side of the goal. Speroni could only stand and admire the Brazilian's hit.
At this point, it was pretty much all about grabbing a third goal and securing the result. Easier - way easier - said than done.
Willian had a chance just before the end of the first half, following more incisive work from Hazard, but shot tamely at Speroni. There were opportunities after the break, too, namely a sequence in which Speroni offered a stunning double save on Andre Schürrle and Demba Ba. Ramires was presented with his own chance to kill off the match, but failed to even get a shot - or a pass - off with Oscar and Ba in the clear and only Speroni to beat. It was excruciating fare.
Meanwhile, Palace, who were already looking a pretty confident unit, began to coast past our stagnant midfield (oh hey, Bison) and started piecing together some quality in the attacking third. Cameron Jerome, Puncheon and Damien Delaney all had chances before Stuart O'Keefe surfaced to wreak absolute havoc in the Chelsea penalty area. The anarchy that followed first saw Terry clear O'Keefe's shot in front of the goal line and then a succession of last-ditch tackles from the likes of Branislav Ivanovic and César Azpilicueta to quell the ongoing threat.
It was a mess, but a mess Chelsea survived. In the end, the Blues had done just enough. And now, a trip to the Emirates awaits.