For anyone who wondered if the team had quit, Chelsea had a spirited answer.
For anyone who wondered who should play striker, Olivier Giroud made a convincing case.
For anyone who wondered whether Willian could keep up his brilliant form, the Brazilian dispelled all doubts.
Willian is on fire. He scored his fifth in the last five games and thirteenth in all competitions. Including the two against Hull City in the FA Cup, the wunder-Brazilian has netted in four of his last five matches.
And yet in his post-match comments, Conte was at pains once again to praise both sides of Willian’s game, just as he was in Manchester last Sunday.
Conte on Willian form: "You can see that if a player stays in great form, I am the first to pick him in the starting XI. I think Willian is playing in a fantastic way, but I want to underline that not only with the ball, but also without the ball. He is working hard" #CHECRY #CFC— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 10, 2018
Despite playing the full ninety minutes, Willian seems to be a lock to play at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
And given Conte’s insistence on the importance of defensive play, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him field the same lineup that he did against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge, as Pedro also puts in a shift without the ball.
Which would leave today’s man-of-the-match contender, Olivier Giroud, on the bench despite a strong performance and desperate bad luck to not score.
A miracle clearance by James Thompkins, running back to his goal line and taking the ball off of the bottom of his boot, denied the Frenchman in the first half. In the second, he hit the post.
Giroud was unlucky not to score today. Worked hard up top and was instrumental in linking play and keeping attacks alive. Quality performance and a deserved ovation from the home fans. 2-0. #CFC pic.twitter.com/HYqmpWw5aA— Chelsea GIFs (@ChelseaGIFs) March 10, 2018
Conte on Giroud: "Today many players had chances to score, not only Olivier. We must be pleased for his commitment. He hit the post & in the first half a defender cleared a chance" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 10, 2018
Giroud also provided the much-discussed focal point that Chelsea’s attack has seemed to lack at times. Alvaro Morata may have cost more (and has yet to control his emotions, getting yet another booking, his eighth) but he has a fight on his hands to win the job as Chelsea’s first-choice striker.
Eden Hazard also had an excellent match, although he seemed more cautious about unleashing a shot, especially compared to Willian, who fired whenever he could.
Conte on Hazard: "I think he played a good game, and had chances to score. But we didn't take a lot of chances that we created today."— Dan Levene (@danlevene) March 10, 2018
In fact, with Palace playing narrowly and defensively in the first half, Chelsea peppered them with shots and closed the game with 27 attempts, 11 on target.
Which is a clear indication that, despite all the doom and gloom over the last week, the players haven’t quit on Conte and are still fighting for top-four.
Conte: "I think this win was very important. I think we played really well, especially in the first half. We dominated the game and created many chances to score. It's a pity at the end we conceded the goal."— Dan Levene (@danlevene) March 10, 2018
With today’s win Chelsea closed the gap two four points on Liverpool, who lost to Manchester United. Tottenham are now just two ahead but have yet to play, traveling to Bournemouth on Sunday.
With top-four, FA Cup and Champions League still in play, Conte sees the Palace result as a positive sign.
One final piece of housekeeping to take care of... Antonio Rüdiger was notably absent from the team sheet.
He has apparently won the starting left centre-back job from Gary Cahill but he wasn’t in the First XI, nor on the bench.
Not to worry, apparently.
Conte also says Rudiger's absence is due to 'muscular fatigue' #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 10, 2018
Which should mean he’ll be available for Chelsea’s next must-win match (they’re all must-win at this point,) in Barcelona on Wednesday for the second leg of our Champions League tie.