Chelsea regained fourth place in the Premier League with a 4-1 win at Selhurst Park that met little serious resistance from start to finish. More important, perhaps, in the long run, they did it with Kai Havertz playing a fine, incisive hand as a central attacker.
On a chilly south London afternoon, Chelsea’s signing of £ 70 million in the summer was a clever moment, nice touches and even, of all things, a well scored goal. Although, these things become more manageable when the opposition barely shows up until the game is over.
This was a surprisingly one-sided match in that opening hour, as Jorginho raced through the midfield and blue jerseys swarmed by all the hosts. It’s not hard to see why Palace has such a poor record against stronger teams. They were horribly shy.
Thomas Tuchel put Reece James to rest here, with Callum Hudson-Odoi on the right back. He also resisted diffuse pressure to reinstall a “proper” center forward and persisted with Havertz in the role of the false nine. It is not difficult to see why. Tuchel wants above all to control the ball and has a longing from Pep for the coaches, the players, the midfielders. Also, of course, the club really needs to get something out of Havertz, whose ceiling is extremely high, its price even more.
Roy Hodgson stayed with the team that drew with Everton on Monday, with Wilfried Zaha offering his drive and cunning close to Christian Benteke in attack.
Not that it made much of a difference as Palace started out as a shocked team to find themselves in a real live soccer game.
Chelsea dominated the early stages, pouring relentlessly down the right flank. At eight minutes, Christian Pulisic made a stop at a short distance from Vicente Guaita. Thirty seconds later, Chelsea went ahead, the ball never leaving the right channel and finally reaching the feet of Havertz, who slid it neatly into the corner.
Palace looked stunned. And two minutes later it was 2-0. Havertz made the final pass, but this was a wonderful team move, the sky blue jerseys moved the ball down the left, Havertz stopped long enough to slide his pass into Pulisic’s run. The auction tore the roof of the net.
And yet Chelsea continued to dominate, making the ball their own, the three forwards lurking in the half spaces, creating overloads on both flanks. In the 23rd minute it should have been 3-0 as Jorginho delivered an excellent forward pass and Havertz produced a Gazza-style combination, a quick overhead swing from Patrick van Aanholt with his left foot and then a shot satin with the right. just to see Guaita make a good save.
The third goal came in the half hour assisted by a Mount free kick into the Palace area. Kurt Zouma jumped high, held the pose over the Palace defense, and then sent a good header into the upper corner.
Palace made a serious first attack at 3-0 down, but before long Mount was making another good save, Van Aanholt was drifting off the line and the crushing attack pattern against defense was reestablished. The halftime count marked 11 shots to zero and 79% possession for the visitors. Palace found it generous. Really only 11?
Palace players had left the field visibly frustrated at half-time, having been subjected not only to the usual hoarse praise from Ray Lewington, but also to the shouts of dismay from teammates in the stands.
There was a shift towards some kind of parity after the break. Ben Chilwell slid down the left, but fired wide when he could have made a single shot. Tuchel kicked and waved his arms, venting his perfectionist’s frustration at poor decision making while avoiding the fierce April cold.
And after an hour, Palace finally began to play. Christian Benteke scored on his first attempt at goal, finishing in an orderly fashion after Jeffrey Schlupp skidded around N’Golo Kanté to cross.
It was Benteke’s second goal at Selhurst Park since April 2018, a strangely sterile record for such a lavishly rewarded international center forward. The introduction of James McCarthy had hardened a fragile Palace midfield. But Chelsea kept making chances, with Havertz churning out some lovely movies and Mount Waspish coming in from the left.
Pulisic added Chelsea’s fourth in the 77th minute, making the right run to slip in a good cross from James, and quelling any further thoughts about Palace’s resilience.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism