Our 1997/98 campaign is best remembered for our two cup triumphs, but there were plenty of highlights in the league, too, including a goal-laden return to form against Crystal Palace...
It looked like the only was up for Chelsea player-manager Gianluca Vialli after the thrashing of bottom club Crystal Palace on Wednesday 11 March 1998.
Less than a month after succeeding Ruud Gullit the Italian had steered his team to a League Cup final and taken a big step towards the last four of the Cup Winners’ Cup with a win at Real Betis. But his team had also suffered three straight league defeats without finding the back of the net.
The Londoners’ title challenge had faltered since Christmas but now appeared to be grinding to a halt. Vialli made six changes to the team to face the Eagles, one of them forced on him by Mark Hughes’ suspension, and the club’s fortune changed.
When Hermann Hreidarsson netted Crystal Palace’s first goal for six matches after just seven minutes, Steve Coppell may have wondered if it was going to be one of those special nights. It was, but not for him. Rather than the Eagles it was Chelsea who got jiggy with it – as Will Smith’s popular refrain of the day had it.
Two goals in reply from Vialli (his 16th and 17th), two for Tore Andre Flo, who replaced the player-manager, and one each for Dennis Wise and Gianfranco Zola (his first since November) blew the visitors away. Zola, Wise, and Dan Petrescu were especially impressive.
Substitute Marcus Bent did pull one out of the hat, but the 6-2 final scoreline remains the Blues’ heftiest ever victory against the south Londoners. Having broken the league goal drought Vialli hoped a corner had been turned and targeted second place and a Champions League berth. ‘We are a club who should be playing in Europe,’ he announced.
Although the League Cup was pocketed at the end of the month, league form remained patchy, and fourth in the table was as good as it got. The Blues secured the prize of European football Vialli sought, but by beating Stuttgart in the Cup Winners’ Cup final in May.