Crystal Palace shocked Chelsea by running out of Stamford Bridge with a 2-1 victory. Just Jose Mourinho’s second home defeat in 100 Premier League matches, Palace pulled out a Mourinho-esque performance. Allowing Chelsea to control the ball (the Blues finished with 64% of possession), Palace defended brilliantly. Alan Pardew set his team up superbly, with two stout lines of defense, ready to break at any moment. Palace poached both their goals with brilliant counters, both coming down the left, and seizing on the mistakes of Chelsea’s backline.
Chelsea 0-1 Palace: Sako 65‘
Palace’s first goal was about their exploitation of Chelsea’s poor defense in the build-up, rather than the closing stages of play.
A cross from the right is cleared by Zouma. One of the young Frenchman’s weaknesses is his tendency to mindlessly whack the ball out of danger. While this is a good practice in certain situations, it can be destructive at times. This goal is one example. Zouma simply hit the incoming cross out of the box in one touch, not taking the time to take a touch, settle and then pick a pass.
The poor clearance put the ball right back into the center of the field, where Palace won the ball back quickly. They pushed it out onto the wing, where Branislav Ivanovic was isolated.
With Nemanja Matic still down field, and Cesc Fabregas not in the space between Gary Cahill and Ivanovic like he should be, Palace had a 2-on-1 situation. Ivanovic had the choice to either step out on Papa Souare (with the ball) or drop back and cut off the pass to Yannick Bolasie. He chose to stay in the middle, leaving Souare with time to pick out a pass to Bolasie, who was unchecked and made an easy run behind Ivanovic.
Pedro was sprinting back to fill the gap that Fabregas should have filled, but was unable to get back in time. Fabregas’ slowness in getting across the field was the main cause for the defensive breakdown.
From here, Chelsea dealt with the breakdown well. Cahill marked Connor Wickham’s run, and Cesar Azpilicueta stuck tight to Bakary Sako. Palace didn’t have many men forward, and Matic picked up the only other player, Jason Puncheon, nullifying that threat on the edge of the box.
Sako got to Bolasie’s cutback just before Azpilicueta, but the left-back made a beautiful sliding block. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the ball bounced right back to Sako, and this time, with no one in front of him, Sako buried the ball in the net.
This goal was somewhat unfair on the Chelsea backline. Matic and Fabregas did a poor job of initially covering the gaps in the line, but the switch in play was fast, and the blame cannot wholly be laid on the pivot midfielders. In the end, the breaks went Palace’s way, and the Eagles fully deserved the good bounce of the ball, after an hour of brilliant football.
Chelsea 1-1 Palace: Falcao 79‘
Chelsea equalized through Falcao with just over 10 minutes left. Like the first goal of the game, the goal was not wholly the fault of the backline. Unlike the Sako goal, this one was somewhat undeserved. Although the Blues had the vast majority of possession, this was not out of superiority, but rather a tactical calculation made by Palace.
With such a share of possession, one would expect Chelsea to have had many more chances than they did. But the Blues spent most of the game passing the ball around the box, hoping that Palace would make a mistake.
In the buildup to the goal, Palace were pressing Fabregas well, making sure he had little time to settle on the ball. Once Fabregas does get some time to look around, Palace had settled into two strong defensive banks: a midfield five, and a defensive four.
With no passing options down the center, he passes the ball out to Pedro on the right wing. Once again, Palace react well. The backline holds its form, while Bolasie fills into the space between Souare and the rest of the backline. The contrast here is interesting. Souare closed out Pedro decisively, while Ivanovic was unsure what to do one the first goal. Bolasie then covered the space, unlike Fabregas.
Pedro’s brilliant cross and Falcao’s run broke apart the defense. Many have focused on Falcao’s speed and poacher instincts. He broke ahead of Damien Delaney with a burst of pace, just beating Delaney to the ball.
But Pedro’s cross is what made the goal. Before Falcao even moved, Pedro had picked out the spot where he would go. He led him with the cross, seeing open space at the front post. Falcao’s finish was just as smart; a low, diving header put the ball onto Alex McCarthy’s feet, where the goalie was unlikely to save from close range.
Chelsea 1-2 Palace: Ward 81‘
Jamie Ward’s winner is not a goal that Chelsea will want to see any time soon. It was a systematic and total failure of the defense.
At this point, Cesar Azpilicueta had been replaced by Kenedy, the 19 year old Brazilian midfielder. What surprised many was that Chelsea didn’t go to a back three, looking to go up a goal, or have Matic drop into the full back slot. Rather, Kenedy played left back. This came back to haunt the Blues.
Bolasie and Wickham play a brilliant one-two to round Ivanovic (yet again). Zouma followed Bolasie onto the wing, where he closed out Bolasie well. Ivanovic didn’t trade spots with Zouma, like he probably should have, but rather stayed close by, perhaps worried about Bolasie’s pace.
Because of Ivanovic’s ball watching, Cahill had to step inside, to fill the yards of open space. Kenedy followed Ward to the center of the goal, leaving the right side open. It was good defending, but the space proved fatal. Eden Hazard failed to track back, meaning Sako could make an unchallenged run to the back post.
Bolasie was able to get enough space from Zouma to cross the ball to the open space. Sako’s run was timed perfectly, and his cutback was even better. Kenedy drifted just enough to let the Palace player head in a goal. Both Kenedy and Cahill probably couldn’t have done better though. The sequence was so fast, both did as well as could be expected. Once the ball got to the back post, there was nothing the backline or Thibaut Courtois could do; it was already over.
Palace fully deserved the three points. Pardew ripped off one of Mourinho’s classic strategies (sit back and hit opponents on the counter), and the team executed it perfectly. For Palace, the season has started great, with 3 wins in 4. The goal is to now keep the momentum going beyond the international break.
Chelsea and Mourinho are rightly embarrassed. This wasn’t just a smash-and-grab job.. The backline was awful, the attack blunt and the midfield weak. Palace dominated every aspect of the game, aside from possession. The goals were poorly conceded. The focus for Chelsea is to solidify the XI, and get the form back to where it was last year. Mourinho has got to do this soon, or else City will pull away and make the title race a mere formality.
Written by James Sutherland
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