It is 11 unbeaten at the start of his Premier League career for Maurizio Sarri, equalling the competition’s best such run but as the boss will be keen to point out, it also is another important three points for the Blues who climb a place in the table.
Sunday afternoon’s win over the south London visitors at Stamford Bridge was secured by Alvaro Morata’s fourth and fifth goals in his past six Chelsea appearances, and by a strike from his compatriot Pedro.
It was Morata with the first of two crisp finishes who gave Chelsea a first-half lead but we were pegged back to 1-1 by Crystal Palace early in the second half, Andros Townsend finding our net with a well-directed shot. At that point it would not have been a surprise if the game had gone either way, but it was Maurizio Sarri’s men who found the extra gear to finish off the game with two goals in six minutes.
Given Sarri had reported during the build-up to the game that Eden Hazard was not yet fit enough to play a full 90 minutes following the back problem which had kept the Belgian out for the previous three matches, it was no surprise to see him choose the same starting line-up as for the impressive win at Burnley in our last league game a week ago. Hazard was introduced today when the score was one goal apiece.
Palace had drawn at home to Arsenal last weekend and they made one change from that side. Jordan Ayew was replaced by Max Meyer who was in midfield, with Townsend pushed forward to join Wilfried Zaha in attack.
Immediately prior to kick-off, the Premier League-wide minute’s silence was observed in memory of the victims of the tragedy at Leicester last weekend. Former Chelsea and Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri was one of those present at the Bridge today.
Then it was time for the on-pitch action and Liverpool’s draw at Arsenal yesterday had given the Blues the chance to climb into second place with a win today. It was an opportunity taken with what was largely a solid display.
Willian and the in-form Ross Barkley delivered threatening low balls from the left in the opening 10 minutes. Palace warned us of their pacy potential on the counter-attack when a Barkley pass was intercepted, but Patrick van Aanholt’s eventual delivery into our penalty area lacked a decent target.
Zaha found Meyer in space on the edge of our box on 19 minutes but the German skied his shot well over the Matthew Harding End goal. David Luiz deserved all the applause that came his way for blocking an attempt by the same player soon after. Palace were briefly the better side. What could Chelsea do by way of attack?
Good, whipped-in crosses towards Morata began to arrive, delivered by both full-backs, but it was a move along the floor just past the half-hour mark that broke the deadlock and continued Morata’s run of finding the net.
Cesar Azpilcueta, making a run deep into the Palace half, received a ball from the back and this time he played it short inside to Pedro. Our no.11 had two attempts at finding the centre-forward and with the second pass he was successful. Morata, sharp as pin, turned on the ball and delivered the scoring touch from close range. A goal made in Spain. 1-0.
An offside flag was raised when Willian thought he had made it 2-0 soon after and it was the Brazilian whose free-kick was headed back across goal by the athletic Alonso, to Morata who could not keep his header down. That was a half-chance.
The Blues were now looking like creating something almost every time we went forward. Although Palace had their moments earlier in the game, we finished the first half clearly on top.
However there was still plenty of work to do, made all the more apparent when Palace equalised eight minutes after the restart. The south Londoners successfully played their way through the middle of our ranks, with Townsend tapping a pass back to Luka Milivojevic and setting off for the return ball. He was in front of David Luiz when it arrived and he remained there as he found the bottom corner of the Chelsea net.
Good work from David Luiz at the near post repelled another Palace attack so it was now time for Hazard. And Mateo Kovacic would join him on the pitch too, but not before Wayne Hennessey had pulled off a sharp save to keep out David Luiz’s firm header from a Willian free-kick.
Hazard’s impact was almost instantaneous although not in the way most would have anticipated. Taking on a free-kick that would normally have been left for the departed Willian, the Belgian’s delivery bounced across the penalty area to way out wide where Morata was lurking to score for the second time in the afternoon. Having chested the ball down, he dispatched his shot left-footed this time and from a tight angle, with the direction and pace to find the far corner.
That was on 65 minutes and five minutes later it was 3-1, Pedro from around about the penalty spot drilling in with one touch from Alonso’s low cross.
Morata could have walked off with the match ball. In the very last minute of the game he was given the chance to run from halfway clear through on goal. His attempt to chip Hennessey did not quite have enough height and the keeper saved.
Next up for the Blues is a date away in Belarus on Thursday, when our passage to the knockout stage of the Europa League can be assured.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, David Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho (Fabregas 80), Barkley (Kovacic 64); Pedro, Morata, Willian (Hazard 64).
Unused subs Caballero, Cahill, Zappacosta, Loftus-Cheek.
Scorers Morata 32, 65, Pedro 70.
Palace (4-4-2): Hennessey; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aanholt; McArthur (Schlupp 80), Kouyate, Milivojevic (c), Meyer (Ayew 71); Zaha Townsend.
Unused subs Guaita, Kelly, Puncheon, Riedewald, Sorloth.
Scorer Townsend 53
Booked Milivojevic 85
Referee Michael Oliver