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Match report: Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 0

We are the champions!

Eden Hazard’s 19th goal of the season was enough to claim top spot with three games to spare. The recently crowned Player of the Year scored on the stroke of half-time after his initial penalty had been saved and from then on, the win was never really in doubt.

Thibaut Courtois was asked to make one decent second-half save but more danger from the visitors from the other side of the Thames had come when the game was scoreless.

Didier Drogba, a man for so many successful seasons, tested the visitors’ keeper with a powerful free-kick during the first half and he, along with Willian and Branislav Ivanovic came close to doubling the lead in the second half but shot wide.

One goal always looked as if it would be enough however and so it proved. Let the party begin in west London! And around the globe for all Chelsea fans – wherever you may be! 

Team news

Jose Mourinho had to make a late change to the teamsheet originally handed in. Ramires, who had been in the starting line-up, was struck by illness and was ruled altogether so Juan Cuadrado came in for his third Premier League start.

The other change from the side which began the game against Leicester on Wednesday was between the posts with Courtois returning. Loic Remy, having overcome his calf injury, was on the bench so Drogba continued to lead the attack with behind him, Willian in the middle, Eden Hazard out left and Cuadrado on the right. Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas were the deeper central midfielders.

The back four was the same as selected for the previous five games during which they conceded just two goals.

Following two home defeats, Alan Pardew made changes to the Palace side with Yannick Bolasie asked to play as the most forward attacker instead of Glenn Murray who was on the bench. Both full-backs were changed from the 2-0 reverse against Hull last time out with Adrian Mariappa and Joel Ward coming in, and Joe Ledley was preferred to Mile Jedinak in central midfield.

First half

Three points. The mathematics could not have been simpler for the Blues to claim our fifth league championship today, and with the previous four, we had done the business at the first time of asking as soon as one win was enough.

After a wet morning in London, the sun obliged by coming out to light the occasion and roared on by a vibrant Sunday lunchtime crowd inside Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho’s men started with good intensity.

Fabregas chipped an early ball into the box that Julian Speroni only just caught ahead of the springing Drogba. Soon after Fabregas was fouled deep inside the Palace half but Drogba’s free-kick was charged down.

On seven minutes, the tricky Bolasie won a corner in front of the Shed, the Blues having been asked to begin the match attacking the less usual end after the coin toss. A second Palace corner followed with 10 minutes played but on both occasions, Chelsea fought hard and the danger passed.

Three minutes later we were able to counter-attack into space for the first time with Willian and Hazard, and the Belgian’s dart to the byline and centre was hurriedly hacked behind by the away defence to a roar from the stands.

Hazard was fouled midway inside the Palace half soon after, leading to a rehearsed routine involving Ivanovic and Fabregas that ended in Speroni’s hands. Cuadrado, seeing plenty of the ball early on, drilled a respectable effort over from long distance.

It was no surprise that the south Londoners were showing plenty of commitment but as we reached quarter of the way through the match, Chelsea were getting a grip on the game.

Scott Dann was booked for a foul on Hazard. From the free-kick, Palace charged forward in an attempt to spring an offside trap that badly malfunctioned when the flag stayed down, leaving Speroni to desperately punch the ball high in the air with four blue shirts closing fast. Matic latched onto the loose ball and from near the byline drew a save from the keeper at the near post.

The free-kicks in the visitors’ territory kept coming, and from one on 25 minutes Speroni fumbled Drogba’s dipping shot but got away with it.

Ivanovic levelled up the card count for a foul on Zaha before Terry blocked importantly from Puncheon as Palace again showed their teeth. Terry was later booked for impeding McArthur inside the Palace half.

The Blues were now working the ball more quickly up front and Azpilicueta thrashed it over first-time after Fabregas had sliced his shot following a Drogba lay-off

Azpilicueta crossed into the hands of the keeper after overlapping into space on the left and Joel Ward did similar for Palace moments later. Time was running out if we were to take a half-time lead, but then entered Eden Hazard.

Bursting into the area onto Willian’s back-heeled return from his pass, the winger was sandwiched by Marriapa and McArthur with the later making the last contact. That’s a penalty pointed and whistled referee Kevin Friend.  

It seemed an age the Belgian and the Argentinian were looking at each other before Hazard struck the spot-kick and when he did, it went low and down the middle. Hearts were in mouths as Speroni saved but they were soon replaced by loud cheers as the ball sat up for Hazard to head home. What a time to relieve pressure!

There was just long enough for Marriapa to be booked for tripping Hazard before the players headed into the changing room with the job half done.  

Second half

It was a changed Chelsea side that emerged, with John Mikel Obi on for Cuadrado. Fabregas was to be asked to play further forward, and there was no shortage of our players on the ball inside the visitors’ half in the opening minutes after the restart. Palace’s ambition was now limited to little more than getting all but one of their players behind the ball.

Ivanovic shot wide from distance before a Mikel-Drogba combination gave the Nigerian the chance to be an unlikely addition the scoresheet, but he shot straight at the keeper.

The crowd were in good voice with songs for Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, followed by ‘We shall not be moved’ and choruses for a host of former stars, as the current players probed patiently for a second goal. Mikel’s long pass was just out of the reach of Drogba who had run in behind the defence.

Drogba then Willian threatened to bundle their way through but were crowded out as the game reached two-thirds gone. Palace had barely attacked since the second-half began but emphasised the narrow nature of the lead when Puncheon fired wide from outside the box.

Alan Pardew made changes, including introducing the battling Glenn Murray up front, but when they did launch it into our box they found the likes of John Terry and his aerial command too strong.

With 13 minutes left on the clock, Willian on the run was crudely pushed to the turf. The free-kick didn’t come off but the danger remained when Fabregas played a clever ball to Ivanovic. He teed up Cahill for a blocked shot before the right-back shot over himself.

Chances were coming and Drogba scooped wide after good footwork from Willian.

Back down the other end, Zaha was suddenly a spare man at the far post after a cross but Courtois saved well. Chelsea broke but the lively Willian shot just wide.  

Palace did provide some nervous moments just before stoppage time began with more aerial attack inside our area, but among the challenges was yet one more towering header from Terry. Courtois dropped on the ball to a huge cheer from the Matthew Harding End behind him and moments later Chelsea players were dropping to the pitch but this time in celebration.

As the rest of the Premier League have found this season, we were just too good for Crystal Palace. Jose Mourinho and his squad will end 2014/15 having added two more pieces of silverware to the trophy cabinet in what continues to be the most successful time in our 110-year history.

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Fabregas, Matic; Cuadrado (Mikel h-t), Willian (Zouma 85), Hazard (Filipe Luis 90+2); Drogba.  
Unused subs Cech, Ake, Loftus-Cheek, Remy.
Scorer Hazard 44.
Booked Ivanovic 27, Terry 38.

Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): Speroni; Mariappa (Kelly 60), Dann, Delaney (C), Ward; Ledley, McArthur; Puncheon (Sanogo 70), Mutch (Murray 60), Zaha; Bolasie.
Unused subs Hennessey, Hangeland, Lee, Jedinak.
Booked Dann 23, Mariappa 45+2.

Referee Kevin Friend
Crowd 41,566

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