Chelsea took another big step towards qualification for next season’s Champions League with a topsy-turvy win at Crystal Palace.
The Blues raced into a two-goal lead at Selhurst Park when Olivier Giroud slotted home from a Willian cross and Christian Pulisic powered home a fierce left-footed effort.
Wilfried Zaha halved the deficit with a stunning strike from distance to pull one back for the hosts in the second half, and it was Palace who were then on top for large periods as they chased an equaliser.
However, Chelsea extended their lead in the second period when substitutes Ruben Loftus-Cheek – a former Palace loanee – and Tammy Abraham combined for the latter to score, before Christian Benteke immediately pulled one back.
However, despite some hairy moments, Chelsea were able to see out the victory as they were aided by the introduction of substitute Jorginho.
Here are the game’s talking points.
1. Willian, it was really nothing
Any suggestion that Willian should have stopped when Gary Cahill pulled up with a hamstring injury before the opener really is quite ridiculous.
It wasn’t as if anyone in Chelsea colours (sky blue? could you call it that?) had done anything to injure their former teammate, who was just the victim of bad luck as his cruel blow struck at the most inopportune time.
Willian wasn’t to know that Cahill had pulled up behind him, and nor should Giroud have given it a second thought when he swept home the opener from the Brazilian’s centre.
It was frustrating for Palace, but that’s football.
2. The Pulisic progression continues
We spoke during the West Ham defeat about just how lockdown may have helped Pulisic ease into the demands both of English football and of playing for Chelsea, and there was another example here.
The Eden Hazard comparisons may be easy and a little far-fetched for now as the American is his own man, but he is undoubtedly beginning to have a Hazard-like impact on certain games.
At Chelsea the Belgian was a master at picking his moments, and Pulisic shares that quality as he can suddenly burst into life to make telling contributions, such as his brilliantly struck goal.
3. And speaking of brilliantly struck…
What a goal that was from Zaha, but what a jarring statistic it was that it was his first goal since December.
That is one of the key reasons why many top clubs have thought twice about making a move for him in the past, and with financial uncertainty set to dominate the market this summer, it will be that lack of goals output which still serves as the biggest question mark against paying big money for him.
If the Ivorian is to earn a place at one of the bigger clubs then he’s going to need to start upping his numbers, from long range and short.
4. Midfield is the major issue for Lampard
Clearly something has gone on between Jorginho and Lampard for the Italy international to be constantly overlooked by his manager post-lockdown, with the midfielder also made to watch on from the bench for most of the game here.
A return to Serie A is believed to be in the offing for the 28-year-old, but it said a lot that Lampard had to turn to him here to wrestle back control of a midfield that was missing N’Golo Kante.
The manager might think that Chelsea’s future will take place without Jorginho, but he’s going to have to replace him somehow.
5. Hodgson and Palace need a plan
When Roy Hodgson was asked before the game about what he wanted to get from Palace’s remaining five games of the season he simply replied “to get through them”. Not exactly inspirational is it?
The veteran boss has his own ways of course, and they work for him, but you’d like to think that he was using these matches at the end of the current season to formulate some sort of plan for the next one.
Is there a plan for Palace? Are there other, younger players Hodgson could blood?
At the moment they are a little in danger of going stale, and that would undo a lot of the manager’s good work.