It was tough, as expected. But the upshot of Sunday’s visit to Selhurst Park was a win, a five point gap over Arsenal for fourth and — surprise, surprise — just two points off of Tottenham for second.
Roy Hodgson left Wilfried Zaha isolated up front and defended in depth, conceding territory and possession to Chelsea in exchange for a clean sheet. Chelsea were industrious without being productive, waiting until late in the first half before getting a shot on target, with the woodwork saving Crystal Palace twice.
What Maurizio Sarri regretted was the absence of a second goal to put the game away, which left Chelsea exposed to late pressure from Palace.
“I think we played against a dangerous opponent. They are dangerous on attacks. We had to have good positions.”
“We were in good control of the match. We didn’t kill the match so for us it is difficult to defend in the box.”
“For 85 minutes we were very good, without conceding for the opponents. I didn’t like that we weren’t able to kill the match before.”
Palace’s tactics worked for 51 minutes, until N’Golo Kanté broke through two lines on a backside run and David Luiz found him in the box. That was Kanté’s third goal of the season.
Having passed up two excellent shooting opportunities against Watford midweek, this time he didn’t hesitate.
That @DavidLuiz_4 and @nglkante link-up today! #CRYCHE pic.twitter.com/o6NTbw3Era— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 30, 2018
Interestingly, Sarri used this as teaching moment for Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley, the latter who took Mateo Kovačić’s place in the first eleven today.
“I think [N’Golo] has to think to defence first of all. Then about attacking.”
“The movement was very good and the right timing. It is important for when you play a team low in density. For us it is important to have.”
“Now we have to work on Loftus and Barkley for this. Loftus is a great player with the ball, but he can improve a lot without the ball.”
-Maurizio Sarri; Source: football.london
Chelsea have been bitten by an injury bug in the goals department and Sarri is running out of options up front. In addition to Giroud going down, he lost Cesc Fàbregas in training. He’s also missing Pedro, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Sarri says Fabregas was sidelined with a neck injury, picked up in the last few minutes of training. Says he is not sure about how long he will be out.— Dan Levene (@danlevene) December 30, 2018
There’s another Premier League match coming midweek against Southampton, and Sarri’s at risk of wearing his team down by having to use (almost) the same lineup for the fourth match in 12 days.
But on the positive side, Chelsea have made it through the hectic December schedule with only two losses in nine matches, winning six meaningful games in the process across all competitions. It’s been a busy month and Sarri’s team, while not left unscathed, have been registering victories without ever really hitting their stride.
That may bode well for the New Year.