Analysis

The Debrief: How fluid front three ran rings round Palace

We take a look at the facts and figures behind yesterday’s fine win over Crystal Palace and how we had the Eagles chasing shadows.

Chelsea bounced back to winning ways in the Premier League in some style, racing into an early lead at Selhurst Park and not looking back as we went on to triumph 4-1.

With the exception of a brief spell at the start of the second half, when our opponents scored their consolation goal, we had Palace exactly where we wanted them throughout.

Blues come out firing

The home side went into the game looking for their fourth consecutive top-flight clean sheet, but those hopes were ruthlessly dismissed by the Blues.

It took us just eight minutes to get our first goal, and we added the second within the first 10 minutes too, leaving Palace shell shocked and us firmly in control.

It was the first time we had scored two goals in the opening 10 minutes of a Premier League match since January 2018. On that occasion we were away at Brighton and it was Eden Hazard and Willian who found the net on a day when we also finished the game with four goals to our name.

This time around it was Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic getting their names on the scoresheet, Havertz also setting up Pulisic’s goal, making it the first time he has scored and assisted league goals in the same Chelsea game. The last time he had done so in the league was in one of his final appearances for Bayer Leverkusen, against Koln last June.

The impact that quick start had on the match as a whole cannot by understated as it set the tone for everything that followed and ensured that Palace were playing catch-up throughout.

We didn’t slow down afterwards either, adding a third around the half-hour mark, as Kurt Zouma headed in Mason Mount’s free-kick to effectively end the contest.

It is a tried and tested route to goal for the Blues, as all four of Mount’s Premier League assists this season have come from his set-pieces being headed in, three of them by Zouma. The Frenchman’s five goals this season also make him the top flight’s highest-scoring defender.

Not that we should need reminding of Zouma’s strength in the air, but the 10 aerial duels he won against Palace was more than double the number of any other Chelsea player. The next best was Antonio Rudiger with four.

Palace chasing shadows

That fast and energetic start to the game, and much of the good work that followed, owed a lot to the movement of our front three. With Havertz resuming his ‘false nine’ role in the centre, flanked by Mount and Pulisic, their fluid rotation and habit of drifting out of position to find space to attack from was simply more than Crystal Palace’s defence could handle.

The threat those three posed is shown by the fact they managed 13 shots between them, five each for Havertz and Mount plus three for Pulisic, while Palace’s goal was the only effort their entire team managed to muster.

The fluid movement is clearly demonstrated by the average positions from the game, with the nominal central striker Havertz actually only the fourth-furthest forward of the Blues, behind his two fellow forwards and wing-back Callum Hudson-Odoi. The German also only lost possession once in the whole game, an incredible statistic for such a creative attacking player.

It wasn’t just about dropping deep, though, as they switched their positions across the line, as shown when Havertz’s early goal started with him winning the ball and interchanging passes with Mount and Hudson-Odoi out wide on the right. It was his only successful tackle at Selhurst Park, but he certainly picked his moment well.

The front three’s willingness to run at the opposition defence also helped unsettle them, with Mount and Pulisic’s three successful dribbles the joint-highest of the Chelsea players. Interestingly, those two’s five attempted tackles were also our joint-highest, demonstrating our eagerness to press high and win the ball in dangerous positions.

Even substitute Hakim Ziyech made more attempted tackles than any other Chelsea player, with the exception of Cesar Azpilicueta, proving it really was a case of defending from the front.

Using the right

Just like against Porto earlier in the week, the width and dynamism provided by our wing-backs proved plenty of problems to a side using a rigid 4-4-2 formation.

Ben Chilwell picked up where he left off in Seville, but this time he was joined on the opposite flank by the more attack-minded talents of Hudson-Odoi, although Reece James did manage to join the latter in getting an assist from the right after replacing him in the second half.

That isn’t to say they weren’t doing their defensive job too, with Hudson-Odoi’s four blocks the joint-highest for Chelsea, alongside Havertz higher up the pitch, but it was going forward that they caused Palace the most problems.

Although Chilwell more than played his part, as shown when his burst down the left resulted in the free-kick which gave us our third goal, it was down the right that we enjoyed our most success. A notable 40 per cent of all Chelsea attacks took place down that flank, compared to just 26 per cent coming through the middle of the pitch.

The impact from both flanks is clear from the fact one of our wing-backs was involved out by the touchline with one of the last three touches for all four of our goals, two by Chilwell and one each by Hudson-Odoi and James.

MORE FROM CHELSEA