Willian, Eden Hazard put a stop to Chelsea's bleeding vs. Crystal Palace
Chelsea returned to winning ways with a much-needed, morale-boosting 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. Man of the match Willian opened the scoring for the Blues on 25 minutes with a solo effort from distance and when Palace defender Martin Kelly deflected the ball into his own net seven minutes later there was a sense that the home side might go on to record an emphatic win. It wasn't to be though, as Chelsea failed to make the most of the chances they created and ended the game conceding a late goal when former Blue Patrick van Aanholt netted for the Eagles.
Three points ensure that Chelsea stay in the hunt for an automatic Champions League qualification berth. Willian's impressive streak of form continues and with Eden Hazard also maintaining his ability to torment defences, the Blues chances of getting something out of the season remain buoyant.
Palace are not in the bottom three without reason, and Chelsea allowed them too much freedom on the ball to create opportunities which a more competent team, e.g. Barcelona whom the Blues face on Wednesday, would have taken good advantage of. Once again, there appeared to be a clear lack of direction on the pitch with Chelsea largely reliant on the artistry of Hazard and Willian to propel them forward.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Having been roundly criticised for his failed "Hazard false 9" experiments in recent weeks, Antonio Conte opted to start Olivier Giroud in the traditional centre-forward's role, leaving Alvaro Morata clicking his heels on the bench. Giroud certainly held the ball up well and had chances to score, but the fact that he didn't and that Conte opted to replace him on 72 minutes with Morata was a source of frustration for supporters, many of whom believe the Blues boss may revert once more to a "false 9" approach for Chelsea's decisive upcoming Champions League tie with Barca.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 -- Having had nothing to do in the way of serious shot-stopping for the first 89 minutes of the game, it was annoying to see Van Aanholt beat Courtois through his legs in the final minute.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Did a good job of shackling Chelsea's backline together and keeping tabs on Christian Benteke and Alexander Sorloth in the first half. Played deep for much of game which was frustrating given the impetus he can give Chelsea when advancing with the ball and creating chances for teammates
DF Andrea Christensen, 6 -- Culpable of some wayward distribution and was dispossessed too easily at times, with one mistake leading to Sorloth hammering the ball against Chelsea's post. Christensen continues to gain experience, but he is no longer viewed as the faultless prodigy he was at the start of the season.
DF Gary Cahill, 6 -- Restored to Chelsea's starting XI and captainship, Cahill put in a shift of robust tackling and blocking. That being said, there was little evidence of communication and the type of leadership that the Blues have been missing since John Terry departed the club.
MF Davide Zappacosta, 7 -- More productive going forward than defending. Fired the shot in on goal which Kelly ended up deflecting past his own keeper to double Chelsea's lead but had problems keeping tabs on Van Aanholt which had consequences for the Blues late on.
MF Marcos Alonso, 6 -- Had little impact on the game as Chelsea channelled much of their play on the opposite flank. Did enough defensively to restrict Andros Townsend.
MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- Dominated the midfield skirmishes in the first half and provided the assist for Willian's goal. Increasingly had to cover for Cesc Fabregas who went missing in the second period when Palace upped the tempo and was occasionally knocked off the ball.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 5 -- Offered little in the way of creative output and didn't support Kante enough when Palace pressed. It was surprising that Conte allowed Fabregas 88 minutes before substituting him.
FW Willian, 9 -- For many supporters Willian is having the best season of his Chelsea career to date. An opportunist goal, his 13th of the campaign, combined with an effervescent display and a willingness to tackle back made this a man-of-the-match performance for the Brazil international.
FW Eden Hazard, 8 -- Although outshone by Willian, this was by no means a poor Hazard performance. Hazard's ability to create havoc in the Palace defence was a joy to watch and his selflessness in constantly working the ball to Giroud was commendable.
FW Olivier Giroud, 7 -- Denied a goal when James Tomkins cleared off the line, Giroud might also have scored on several more occasions if it wasn't for some poor luck. Worked well with Willian and Hazard and overall looked a better proposition as a target man than Morata who replaced him late on.
FW Alvaro Morata, NR -- Replaced Giroud midway the second half but lacked the impact of the ex-Arsenal striker and was wasteful with the ball when involved in the play.
FW Pedro, NR -- Replaced Fabregas with a couple of minutes remaining but did not have the chance to make a positive contribution.
MF Tiemoue Bakayoko NR -- Replaced Hazard. Palace scored a minute later.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco