Chelsea with the ball
From the back Chelsea were able to comfortably progress with the ball. Palace had Benteke and Zaha wide, along with the wingers following Chelsea’s wing-backs. When Luiz received the ball centrally he was out of pressure and was able to carry the ball forward and make forward passes (centrally to feet or wide switches). When Chelsea’s central midfielders moved to collect the ball and faced play, they could also find themselves able to play forward to the front three.
Palace made some attempts of collective pressure in wide areas when Chelsea’s wing-backs were deep to receive the ball, but Chelsea were easily able to find options centrally through the front three dropping to receive the ball. Upon receiving the ball in pressure situations, the front three could quickly combine before switching the ball wide, maintaining possession and progressing into the final third or drawing a foul.
The reason Palace didn’t commit players forward in order to match and press Chelsea’s building was to maintain a numerical advantage at the back—particularly across the backline in order to not get exposed by the width and numbers Chelsea use on their frontline.
As Chelsea moved the ball into Palace’s half, they either circulated or switched the ball wide, where the wing-backs and Hazard could take on the defenders before putting crosses into the box. Townsend would move back to join the backline early, while Puncheon would drop back into the backline when needed as cover. This was enough for Palace to maintain a numerical advantage on their last line, as Hazard and Cesc would move away from the last line (especially Cesc) to receive the ball amongst the central midfielders and facing play.
Combinations between Hazard and Cesc when they moved to the same side of the pitch also created some opportunities—where Cesc could often make runs behind the Palace defence on the inside before playing a reverse pass back inside for Hazard or playing the ball across for Costa to attack.
When Chelsea were able to draw Townsend forward, away from the backline, they were able to stretch Palace’s backline upon progressing with the ball up the right—creating more space inside the box for potential crosses. Chelsea were able to expose Townsend on a couple of occasions in the second half, before he was taken off.
While Chelsea could create some opportunities from these situations, the numbers that Palace maintained in the box often provided enough cover. They could pick up the Chelsea players in the box with additional players as cover, while when a Chelsea player received the ball inside the box there were often players around to block shots.
When Palace won the ball in deep areas they created a few successful counter attacks. One reason for their success was the positioning of Benteke and Zaha when they were defending, where they would move into wide areas. Zaha would sometimes drop back more to support the midfielders defensively, but could then break up on the right to receive the ball and carry it forward.
Benteke, on the other had, would maintain a position behind Azpilicueta to try to expose the space that he leaves behind when he moves forward into the final 3rd. Early long balls up to Benteke on the wing created some problems for Chelsea’s backline. When Palace countered through Benteke, Luiz was forced to move over in order to pressure him, while Zaha would be in close support. With Cahill as the only cover remaining behind the ball, Palace could create momentary 2v2’s—as they did for Benteke’s goal.
Another key aspect of their successful counter play was the ability of their front players to maintain the ball, through their body position, turns and drawing fouls—which not only allowed them to keep the ball, but also disturbed Chelsea’s sustained pressure around Palace’s box.
Later on in the game, Palace were able to create another good chance for Zaha from a long ball up to Benteke (after winning the ball deep) where they had additional support from Puncheon on the right to create a 3v3 up until the moment when Benteke played the ball out to Puncheon.
Palace with the ball
In possession Palace played a direct game. When Hennessey had the ball he often played long to Chelsea backline (around Azpilicueta and Pedro) where Benteke was the target. Benteke would often begin with a wide position on the left, which allowed him to have space on the inside to have a running jump when competing for the ball in the air. Zaha and Townsend were on the last line running behind for the flick-on, while Puncheon narrowed his position on the inside to join the central midfielders behind Benteke in support.
To prevent Benteke consistently gaining mismatches in the air, Chelsea used a couple of different methods. They used Luiz or Matic to move over to directly compete with Benteke in the air, or (when Benteke was around Azpilicueta) Azpilicueta would block Benteke with his body position while Matic was free to win the header.
From midfield, Palace could maintain the ball along the backline, with support from the central midfielders, before they would play long to Benteke or runners going behind Chelsea’s backline. During the moments where they would have the team positioned higher and numbers in Chelsea’s half they would press the second ball and continue to press high when they lost the ball. It gave them a couple of chances to quickly counter when they did win the ball, but when Chelsea were able to break the pressure they could quickly expose their backline and find space behind and in wide areas—which they did for their goal.
In the final third, Palace held the ball well with the front players before looking to play from wide areas. The fullbacks would support the wingers with occasional overlaps, while Zaha could move wide to provide additional support and combinations. Crosses were aimed at the far post (Benteke) where they had the option to use Puncheon moving inside on his left foot to play ball’s into the box from deep positions. When they were playing quickly with the ball in the final third, Palace could play early to Benteke on the edge of the box, where he could hold the ball or play it first-time for Zaha, Townsend or Puncheon to have opportunities to shoot upon receiving the ball.
Palace found some good solutions for counters through attacking wide areas (particularly Benteke moving behind Azpilicueta) while their numbers in deep areas often limited Chelsea to needing to break them down in a deep block around their box. Chelsea were able to create a lot of chances to score, but a mixture of good saves by Hennessey, blocks by the defenders and poor finishing prevented them from profiting from them.