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Princely Willian rules at Palace to maintain Blues' top-four push

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Tammy Abraham scores Chelsea’s third goal in their victory over Crystal Palace

Tammy Abraham scores Chelsea’s third goal in their victory over Crystal Palace

REUTERS

Tammy Abraham scores Chelsea’s third goal in their victory over Crystal Palace

Whatever the future holds for Willian, his Chelsea legacy is looking pretty safe thanks to his decision to stay at the club for the rest of the season.

Despite winning two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and the Europa League during his seven seasons at Chelsea, Willian has been a player who has divided opinion among fans. But nobody will be arguing that the 31-year-old has been anything but brilliant ever since Chelsea restarted their season.

His two assists at Selhurst Park, for Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic, plus a goal from substitute Tammy Abraham, helped to keep Chelsea on course for Champions League qualification.

Chelsea almost shot themselves in the foot by twice letting Crystal Palace back in and then surviving two huge let-offs in stoppage time, but this felt like a big win.

"We might have been fortunate in the last five minutes, but we should have had the game under control by then," said Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard. "At 2-0 we were in control of the game and at 3-2 we had lots of chances to kill the game."

Abraham's goal was only his second since the turn of the year and Lampard added: "It will be really important for him. He is desperate for goals and he had not scored for a while. It's good for his confidence and he took it well."

Willian could have left on June 30 and if he had done so then the winger may well have departed with a cloud over his Blues career. But the way in which he has played since the restart has ensured Willian will either sign off in style or possibly win himself a new Chelsea contract.

This is already Willian's most productive season in terms of Premier League goals, with his tally of nine beating his previous best of eight in 2016-'17. And it took him just six minutes at Selhurst Park to take his number of assists for the campaign up to six, even though there was an element of good fortune for Chelsea.

Former Chelsea captain Gary Cahill pulled up with a hamstring injury as he moved out to cover a Reece James pass down the right, leaving Willian to race clear. The Brazilian took the ball to the bye-line and expertly cut it back for Giroud to score the easiest of goals.

Some Palace players complained that Chelsea had played on, but manager Roy Hodgson said: "I am realistic. For me to suggest they should have stopped playing, that's not the way football is."

Cahill had to go off, with Hodgson claiming he could now miss the rest of the season, and Willian's number of assists should have gone up to seven, but Kurt Zouma headed his perfectly delivered corner wide.

Willian was proving impossible to mark for the Palace defence, as he moved from the right to the left and, at times, lingered in the middle.

In the 26th minute, he did register assist No 7 by passing the ball to Pulisic, who smashed a brilliant shot past Vicente Guaita.

Impact Lampard had wanted more goals from his wide attacking players before the lockdown and since the restart Willian has scored four times and Pulisic three. "Willian and Christian are a big threat for us at the minute," said Lampard. "They have had an impact on all of the games and Willian deserves huge credit. I am so pleased for him."

For as good as Willian and Pulisic have been since the restart, goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has struggled in almost equal measure. And there were questions asked of the Spaniard once again, as Palace got themselves back into the match from nowhere with 11 minutes of the first period remaining.

James was careless to give the ball away, allowing Patrick van Aanholt to break forward and his pass inside deflected into the path of Wilfried Zaha. There is no debating the fact that Zaha's 30-yard shot carried plenty of punch and appeared spectacular on first look, but replays suggested Kepa should have got a hand to it.

Telegraph.co.uk