Chelsea - Crystal Palace: The Bridge over Troubled Water
Stamford Bridge has become a refugee. For every slip and fall Chelsea Football Club have had this season, their home form continues to be resolute. In this 2013-14 edition of the Barclay’s Premier League there’s no such thing as: “an ugly victory.” Anytime you earn three points -- it’s inherently beautiful; and the Blues’ 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday is evidence of that.
The match, while not an overwhelming spectacle of creative football, had its moments. Eden Hazard was magnificent. The way he drifts and weaves past defenders is akin to Floyd Mayweather’s movement in the boxing ring – simply untouchable. Slightly more impressive than Hazard’s performance -- was a goal from a Chelsea striker! You’d think this would be a common sight, but goals from Chelsea’s forwards have been as rare as four-leaf clovers, UFOs and unicorns. Fernando Torres showed off his poacher’s instinct, putting back Willian’s post-rattling effort, giving his side a 1-0 advantage 16 minutes into the match.
As has been the troubling case for most of this season, clean sheets for Chelsea have been ghostlike. In-form Palace striker Marouane Chamakh exploited space left by Brazilian centre-back David Luiz, and calmly slotted the ball past Petr Čech to equalise in the 29th minute.
In times like those one thinks: “You know, Rafa Benitez may have been on to something?” Luiz looked to be a fit in the holding midfield role, but new (yet, not new) skipper José Mourinho seems to have discounted last season’s performance. It’s rather worrisome for Chelsea supporters when the Brazilian runs off his line to win the ball, then looses out in the challenge -- as it leaves gaps for the opposition to exploit. Add that to the aging John Terry, the less-than-pacey Branislav Ivanović, and Ashley Cole’s warming of the substitute bench, and you begin to piece together Chelsea’s defensive woes.
Even though Chelsea may be considered suspect at the back, every player on their team-sheet, with the exception of Čech and John Obi Mikel, could be looked upon to score a goal whenever required. Ramires was the man called upon Saturday. Created by the vision of Hazard in the 35th minute, the Brazilian midfielder, just outside the box, found the upper-left corner of the Palace goal in the sweetest of fashions. His first goal of the campaign effectively sealed three points in his sides favour.
After going down 2-1, Tony Pulis’ side were anything but neutered; the Eagles gave the Stamford Bridge faithful pause on more than one occasion, their main chance coming in the 78th minute. A cross from Cameron Jerome found the feet of Stuart O’Keefe -- whose effort was saved by Čech. The subsequent rebound was blocked on the line by Chelsea captain John Terry and finally cleared away by the ubiquitous Ivanović – very nervy moments at the Bridge indeed.
The game finished with a flurry of shots and saves in front of the Crystal Palace goal; substitutes André Schürrle and Demba Ba with the most blatant of the chances. José Mourinho looked to know his team had escaped with the three points, but also had the look of a manager knowing his team should have scored four or five goals. You can’t blame him. Chelsea had 70% of the possession, and netted just two goals. Contrasted with the performance of teams like Manchester City, who score goals for fun at home (see 6-3 vs. Arsenal), Chelsea must be more clinical in front of goal. Allowing “ lesser” teams (all due respect) to hang around and see the light at the end of the preverbal tunnel is a recipe for dropping points, and in turn dropping spots on the table.
That being said -- a win is a win.
With the chance to go top of the table come Boxing Day, the Pensioners next domestic league match against Arsenal at the Emirates should be a true assessment of where they stand in relation to the contending pack.
That sentence was as awkward to compose as any.
For all the talk of poor defensive showings and strikers seemingly unable to fire competently -- Chelsea sit third in the Premier League (level on points with second place Liverpool), having the potential to go top of the table before Christmas. It’s not a bad place to be in truth.
…And they say José isn’t special…
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