Sunday 8 December 2019

'Rats' show their teeth as Chelsea storm the Palace

Crystal Palace 0-3 Chelsea

Diego Costa beats Damien Delaney to the ball only to be thwarted by Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy. Photo credit: John Walton/PA Wire.
Diego Costa beats Damien Delaney to the ball only to be thwarted by Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy. Photo credit: John Walton/PA Wire.
Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Willian celebrates scoring his team's second goal. Photo: Getty
Oscar celebrates with Diego Costa. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
Crystal Palace's Joel Ward in action with Chelsea's John Obi Mikel. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez

Jason Burt

Amid a downpour of almost biblical proportions, Chelsea were finally waving, not drowning.

After a previously cataclysmic campaign for the champions, here was a convincing win that will resonate - not least in the debate over how many, and by how much, players were trying under Jose Mourinho.

In the precipitation there was certainly perspiration - New Year, Old Chelsea. There were outstanding performances from back to front - not least in attack where Diego Costa returned to his bristling and controlled best.

Oscar and Willian were willing, skilful runners, Cesc Fabregas orchestrated and John Obi Mikel, in from that strange Mourinho-imposed exile, was dominant.

Mikel was the "ideal player", said caretaker manager Guus Hiddink for the way he wants Chelsea to perform right now, which is to work hard, keep it simple - or, as he also put it, succinctly but rather more vividly, "invest in the dirty work and not just the beautiful game".


Costa, Fabregas and Eden Hazard, who limped off injured early on with a groin problem but not before - tellingly and in contrast to Mourinho's last game in charge away against Leicester City, he had tried to carry on - were the three 'rats' blamed by some Chelsea fans.

On this evidence they were emphatically beyond reproach although a personal point of view is it is very hard and dangerous to accuse players of not trying.

Sometimes instead, the pressure builds to such a degree that it appears their effort is not there; it is just not happening for them, they seem to hide and something has to give.

More often than not it is the manager that is the problem and once Chelsea decided there was "palpable discord" between Mourinho and his squad then he had to go, to be replaced until the end of this season by the restorative balm that Hiddink brings to the club.

At a sodden Selhurst Park it certainly felt like Chelsea were back. Neatly this was the first game of 2016, the first game in the second half of the Premier League campaign and Chelsea will hope that their season will start here. A fresh start. A new resolution.

A line has been drawn, therefore, and such are their capabilities that the rest of the league might just give a little shudder of apprehension.

Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea's Champions League opponents next month, might also be re-evaluating their task.

Chelsea's title has gone but they can rise through the pack and do damage and as Hiddink has pointed out there are two cups to play for. Certainly there will be no need to panic about not having relegation clauses in the players' contracts.

Relegation was the spectre over Palace when Alan Pardew was appointed manager a year to the day of this game and, although this was a crushingly disappointing way to celebrate a first anniversary, the club have made astonishing progress over the past 12 months.

They hit a wall here. Injuries and suspension, fatigue and a lack of goals - this was a third successive league game without scoring - have struck hard.

As well as Chelsea played in the second half, this was a good time to face Palace.

It was their biggest defeat in the league under Pardew and, by the end, the margin of victory for Chelsea could have deservedly been even greater.

They almost visibly grew in stature as the confidence began to return although there was a sheepish response from some at the final whistle with Pardew disclosing that he had congratulated Fabregas over his performance.

"About time," was the gist of the midfielder's response.

Maybe that hurt will motivate them; maybe it will be a fuel.

Perhaps the presence of Hiddink, who had such a successful period in charge in a similar role six years ago, is providing the necessary ballast after Mourinho's bombast.

Still, there remained a fragility to Chelsea in the early exchanges, with Palace adapting to the conditions by getting the ball forward quickly and with Wilfried Zaha initially deployed as a central striker.

There then were two pivotal passages of play. Two passages in which Palace threatened to score but Chelsea did.

The first came as Jason Puncheon's first-time cross bounced narrowly in front of Mile Jedinak but reached Frazier Campbell who, at the far post, was unable to keep his shot down as the ball kicked up off the slick turf.

Then, Chelsea broke with Mikel, as ever, breaking up play and feeding Fabregas, who astutely slid the ball through for Costa.

Damien Delaney had to make the interception but, at full stretch, failed to do so and on went Costa. He had the presence of mind to pull the ball back, rather than shoot, and Oscar swept it into the net. Fabregas and Costa, the axis restored.

However, in the second-half, Costa lost the ball and Campbell slipped a pass to Zaha.

Given a sight of goal he had to strike but his shot was weak, lacking conviction and Thibaut Courtois held it easily.

Immediately Chelsea came forward again and Fabregas and Oscar were involved again with the latter letting the ball run to the on-rushing Willian who crashed a fierce first-time, right-footed shot from outside the penalty area which arrowed past Wayne Hennessey.


The third goal arrived with another powerful involvement from Willian who ran purposefully forward before shooting low back across Hennessey who could only push the ball into Costa's path and he bundled it over the line under pressure from Joel Ward.

It was over. And it could have been more. Hennessey had already saved superbly from Cesar Azipilicueta, with an angled shot after he was smartly picked out by Oscar, and Kurt Zouma had headed Willian's free-kick over from close-range, before Costa volleyed wide, Delaney stopped the striker with a last-ditch tackle and Scott Dann blocked Oscar's goal-bound shot.

By now the rain had began to ease but Palace had long been washed away in a different deluge.

Chelsea will hope that, for them, the storm has finally abated.

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