10 Mar Chelsea hold off Palace but concerns remain for Conte
Chelsea clung on to a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge which will do little to boost the Blues’ fragile confidence ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Barcelona.
Willian’s fifth goal in five games and an own goal from Martin Kelly gave Chelsea a 2-0 half-time lead, but Palace gave their hosts plenty of cause for concern.
Palace striker Alexander Sorloth hit the post after 47 minutes and had a late strike ruled out before Patrick van Aanholt netted against his former club in the 90th minute.
The Blues, who had had chances to kill the game off, most notably when Olivier Giroud also struck a post, held on.
But there were plenty of reasons for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to shift uneasily in his seat as Antonio Conte’s side made hard work of dispatching a Palace side now 18th and without a win in seven.
The Blues are now two points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, having played a game more, and go into a potentially decisive week at Barcelona and Leicester following just a fifth victory from 16 games in 2018.
Chelsea had lost four of their previous five in the Premier League and Palace have proved something of a bogey team of late.
The Eagles, whose first win of the season came against Chelsea in October, were seeking a third straight win at Stamford Bridge.
Conte’s side showed glimpses of early enterprise, although Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was scarcely called into action.
After his complaints at being made to play as a ‘false nine’, Eden Hazard was given freedom to roam off the left flank.
Giroud was playing as a recognised striker as one of four changes, while N’Golo Kante’s availability after fainting following training eight days ago restored balance.
It was Kante who created Chelsea’s first real chance. Giroud was six yards out when he swiped and missed at the midfielder’s lofted pass.
Kante and Willian, in particular, were finding space on the edge of the Palace box and the Brazilian’s persistence was rewarded.
Willian cut in from the left and struck the ball right-footed. It deflected off Kelly before going in off the foot of the post.
Kelly’s misfortune continued. Willian let the ball run for Hazard, who played it to the on-rushing Davide Zappacosta.
The Italian’s shot hit Kelly, the ball bounced on to Hennessey and then ricocheted in off the hapless Kelly for 2-0.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked Marcos Alonso’s volley from Giroud’s nod-down before the France striker had a chance to make it three. With the goal gaping, Giroud’s shot was blocked by the recovering James Tomkins.
Hazard netted following the resulting corner, but he was in an offside position.
Within two minutes of the restart the once reliable Chelsea defence opened up.
The mere presence of Wilfried Zaha, back from a knee injury and on at half-time for the ineffective Christian Benteke, caused panic in the Chelsea defence.
A mix-up between Zappacosta and Andreas Christensen, with Zaha in close proximity, allowed the ball to break for Sorloth, whose fierce shot beat Thibaut Courtois and came back off the near post.
Giroud hit a post after Hazard’s run and Alonso’s pass as Chelsea failed to find a third. It might have proved costly.
Sorloth had a strike ruled out for a foul in the build-up before Van Aanholt tucked the ball through Courtois’ legs for a goal which had been coming, but proved little more than consolation.