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5 key matches for Chelsea

Chelsea
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Conte masterminds tactical lesson

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 By Mark Worrall

Willian and Costa shine for Chelsea, but questions remain over Hazard

Chelsea did not miss Eden Hazard after he limped out of their 3-0 win at Crystal Palace.

Chelsea strolled to a 3-0 victory at a rain-swept Selhurst Park where an under-par Crystal Palace side rolled over and allowed Guus Hiddink's men to start righting the wrongs of their difficult campaign.

Goals from Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa sealed an important win for the reigning Premier League champions, who at last appear to be clicking into gear.

While there was certainly much to admire about Hiddink's reinvigorated charges, the sight of Eden Hazard asking to come off after quarter of an hour tainted the silver lining to the clouds from which the rain fell incessantly throughout the game.

Fortunately, Hazard wasn't missed, and a gutsy performance from his teammates ensured Chelsea's New Year remains a happy one.

Crystal PalaceCrystal Palace
ChelseaChelsea
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Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 -- Rarely called into action. Looked confident enough despite troublesome conditions that impeded clean handling of the ball.

DF Branislav Ivanovic, 6 -- A drama-free afternoon for Ivanovic, who owned the right flank and faced little in the way of an examination of his defensive qualities which have lapsed on more than one occasion this season.

DF John Terry, 6 -- Organised Chelsea's backline confidently. Made a couple of telling blocks, but was largely untroubled by a Palace team lacking a cutting edge.

DF Kurt Zouma, 7 -- Physical presence made him Chelsea's key defensive asset and the France international's mobility provided attacking options as well, particularly at set pieces. Untroubled at the back, Zouma might have scored when meeting a Willian free-kick with what is rapidly becoming a trademark flying downward header.

DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- An early unintentional kick in the face from Fraizer Campbell didn't diminish the Spaniard's ardour for the game. A thoroughly committed defensive display might also have brought a goal with it but for the brilliance of Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who beat away a fierce shot in the first half following a buccaneering run down the left flank.

MF John Obi Mikel, 8 -- Has certainly had his fair share of detractors during the course of his Chelsea career but at a time when the Blues needed players to show what they are made of, the Nigeria international did just that. Pulled the strings in midfield and gave Cesc Fabregas the opportunity to rediscover the touches that made him a force to be reckoned with last season.

MF Cesc Fabregas, 7 -- A potentially tricky game for a player who has come in for stern criticism this season was made easier by classy midfield partner Mikel. Soon got into the type of stride that was always going to cause Palace problems and linked up well with Costa, as shown in the build up to Oscar's goal.

MF Willian, 8 -- Has been Chelsea's best and most consistent player this season. Another fine performance was capped by a 20-yard stunner that destroyed any hopes Palace had of making a comeback. Linked up well with teammates and after a fine move played in Costa for Chelsea's third.

MF Oscar, 7 -- Survived a hesitant start to the game and grew in stature after tapping in Costa's pass to open the scoring. Asked plenty of questions of the Palace defence in the second half, not least in the build-up to Willian's fantastic goal.

MF Eden Hazard, 3 -- Didn't exactly look up for it in the rain. Asking to be subbed off after picking up a knock was never going to earn him a good review or any sympathy from those Chelsea supporters who are questioning his commitment.

FW Diego Costa, 8 -- Measured and competent performance from Costa, who led the line with commitment and purpose. Patiently withstood the physical attention of Palace defender Damien Delaney. Linked up well with Fabregas and was unselfish when teeing up Oscar for Chelsea's opener. Well-placed to take advantage of a Hennessy error to score Chelsea's third.

Substitutes

MF Pedro, 6 -- Replaced Hazard in the 16th minute and played with plenty of vim and vigour although lacked the vision of Oscar and Willian and was guilty of overrunning the ball far too often against feeble opposition.

MF Nemanja Matic, N/R -- Replaced Oscar in the 88th minute.

Mark Worrall has penned several books on the history and success of Chelsea Football Club. You can follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.

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