Chelsea claimed their first victory under Graham Potter after Conor Gallagher came off the bench to shatter Crystal Palace with a superb last-minute winner.
The wait was worth it as far as Potter was concerned. Chelsea fell behind to an early goal from Odsonne Édouard and were fortunate not to lose Thiago Silva to a red card during the first half. Yet Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalized with his first goal for his new side and Potter won his first league game in charge after Gallagher, who excelled on loan for Palace last season, bent in a magnificent shot from 20 yards.
The sense is that Potter is ready to try things out. Given plenty of time to think since opening his tenure with a low-key draw with Red Bull Salzburg, he could not be accused of a lack of boldness. The emphasis on attack was clear, the variety of Chelsea’s movement catching the eye, the fluidity of their 4-2-2-2 system confusing Palace, and for all the imperfections there were times when it was possible to be encouraged by what may be possible if Potter is given room to let his ideas breathe.
Potter could even claim to be pleased with his team’s start. Raheem Sterling, nominally positioned in the middle but always causing problems by drifting out to the right to occupy Tyrick Mitchell, had a chance. The elusive Kai Havertz took up some dangerous positions. Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho recycled the ball efficiently.
Equally it did not take much to break Chelsea’s equilibrium. Seven minutes were on the clock when Palace went ahead, trouble brewing from the moment Wesley Fofana left his side in trouble with a slack pass out from the back.
Fofana’s carelessness was starting. If the initial error from the £70m defender was bad, even worse was how he reacted as Édouard turned, broke through Chelsea’s soft center and found Jordan Ayew on the right. Where was the emergency? It was too easy for Palace. Ben Chilwell, starting at left-back for the first time since the opening day, backed off Ayew and when the Palace winger swung in a bouncing cross Fofana made his third and costliest error, losing Édouard and allowing the striker to beat Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea looked shocked. Palace were rampant for a while. Wilfried Zaha kept running at Reece James on the left and only two fine saves from Arrizabalaga prevented Eberechi Eze from extending the home side’s lead.
But Palace needed a second goal. With Joachim Andersen injured, Joel Ward partnered Marc Guéhi in central defense and the hosts did not look entirely secure. There were chances for Chelsea, Mason Mount heading narrowly wide and Sterling going close.
Yet Chelsea were just as shaky at the back. The flashpoint soon arrived, Silva dithering 40 yards from goal, tumbling to the turf and clawing the ball to impede Ayew. Was it a denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity? Chris Kavanagh, the on-pitch referee, thought not, showing Silva a yellow, and Selhurst Park sawhed when a review by the VAR, Stuart Attwell, did not lead to the Chelsea centre-back being sent off.
Palace were livid. The free-kick came to nothing and the sense of injustice grew when Silva made Chelsea’s equalizer in the 38th minute, rising above Nathaniel Clyne and nodding James’s long ball down to Aubameyang, who spun Ward and produced a finish of devastating accuracy for his first goal since joining Chelsea from Barcelona.
It was a big moment for Potter, whose job will be much easier if Aubameyang turns out to be the striker capable of coping with the pressure of wearing Chelsea’s No9 shirt. Palace, though, saw it differently. Their mood was hardly helped by Clyne being forced off with a worrying head injury, Silva catching the right-back when he rose to set up Aubameyang.
Chelsea were more assertive during the second half, though clear chances were rare. Palace could have won it when Zaha tested Arrizabalaga with a stinging drive.
Potter turned to his bench, throwing on Armando Broja, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Christian Pulisic and Gallagher. Palace, who remain just above the bottom three, feared the worst when. It soon became clear why when Pulisic dribbled in from the left and found Gallagher, who stole the show.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism