The second half of the season has finally shown signs of life for Chelsea, with a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. A 65th minute header from Kai Havertz was enough to claim all the spoils and keep the home side’s slim chance of Champions League qualification alive.
However, there is still work to be done for Potter’s side as they had to withstand a nervy finish to the match, but the result will be welcome relief for the Blues who had yet to win a match this calendar year, before today.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Badiashile, Hall (Koulibaly 80); Jorginho (c), Gallagher, Mount; Chukwuemeka (Aubameyang 63), Havertz (Azpilicueta 89), Ziyech (Kovacic 89)
Unused Subs: Bettinelli, Cucurella, Humphreys, Loftus-Cheek, Fofana
Scorer: Havertz 65
Booked: Jorginho 49; Gallagher 84
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): Guaita; Clyne, Andersen (Tomkins 39), Guehi (c), Mitchell; Doucoure, Schlupp (Hughes 70), Olise; Eze (Edouard 70), Ayew (Mateta 70), Zaha
Unused Subs: Johnstone, Ward, Richards, Milivojevic, Ozoh
Booked: Doucoure 26; Clyne 42; Eze 52; Vieira 80 (not on pitch); Hughes 83; Guehi 88
Prior to kick-off, tributes were paid to legendary former player and manager Gianluca Vialli, by former team-mates, such as John Terry, Graeme Le Saux and Mark Hughes. They joined players from both teams in the minute’s applause, which followed an emotional video being played around the stadium.
As the game began, Chelsea started with intent and were soon venturing into the Palace penalty area, with Lewis Hall and Hakim Ziyech providing width across the pitch.
Down the other end, the Eagles fashioned opportunities of their own and Kepa Arrizabalaga had to be quick to clear with the Spaniard thwarting Michael Olise with a flying save to push away a rising strike on the half-volley. In between those efforts, Tyrick Mitchell was also denied by another acrobatic Kepa save.
Despite dominating possession, clear-cut chances were at a premium for the Blues. Thiago Silva won two headers in the box and then forced Vicente Guaita into a low stop, though the flag quickly went up to rule Kai Havertz offside in the build-up.
Gallagher, who spent last season on loan at Selhurst Park, then troubled his former team-mates with a determined run that resulted in a corner though the visitors remained resilient in the air.
The best opportunity of the opening 45 fell to Havertz just after the half-hour mark – as the German drifted into space in the box and read the flight of Ziyech’s floated inswinger. He beat Guaita to the ball but couldn’t keep his header down and the attempt soon landed on the roof of the net.
Both goalkeepers were worked before the interval, with Gallagher again making good progress down the right before firing in a low cross. Havertz narrowly missed making contact and the ball went through to Hall, who returned back where it had come from, but shot wide of the far post.
Kepa then pushed over a powerful header from Schlupp before Guiata did similar for Palace as Chelsea quickly broke forward, with Gallagher’s cross cut out and Ziyech’s rising strike helped over the crossbar.
During the half-time break, Mudryk was presented to the fans shortly after completing a transfer from Shakhtar Donetsk. Draped in the flag of Ukraine, the 22-year-old was afforded a warm welcome before returning to the stands to watch the remainder of the match.
Patience and persistence were required for the second half, with both sides still searching for the game’s opening goal. Kepa punched away a stinging strike from Wilfried Zaha but it was Havertz holding the most influence as the deciding moments of the contest came along.
First, the German was denied by Guiata with a shot that lacked the accuracy to trouble the visiting keeper but finally the deadlock was broken with 25 minutes remaining.
Gallagher and Ziyech worked a short corner from the left before the Moroccan delivered and Havertz’s lively front-post run was coupled with a thumping header that left Palace’s goalkeeper with no chance and handed the forward his sixth goal of the campaign.
A comfortable winning margin would require a second goal, so whilst the lead only remained at one, it was always going to be a nervy final few minutes in SW6.
Substitutions had been made, with Aubameyang introduced from the bench just before Havertz’s opener. The Gabonese striker had an opportunity for a second goal for the Blues, but the chance was quickly snuffed out by the onrushing Guaita.
Kalidou Koulibaly and Cesar Azpilicueta were brought on in the closing stages, to help see the game out, but there was still requirement for a key flying save from Kepa to maintain the clean sheet, as he pushed over Doucoure’s effort from distance.
Chelsea have a timely midweek break, as their next match is an away trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool in the Premier League next Saturday lunchtime.