Chelsea further strengthened their position in the Premier League’s top four with victory over Crystal Palace in an entertaining encounter at Selhurst Park, that included a stunning long-range strike from Wilfried Zaha and a rare goal from Christian Benteke.
There was an element of fortune about the game’s opening goal, with Palace defender Gary Cahill pulling up with a match-ending injury to allow Willian to charge into the box unimpeded and set up Olivier Giroud to finish.
But the rest of the match was a testament to the kind of competitive, high-octane, see-saw football that draws so many viewers to the English top-flight, even when the grounds are empty of fans.
Twice Chelsea looked to have put the game beyond the home side, first through Christian Pulisic’s rising shot to make it 2-0 in the first half and then via Tammy Abraham’s neat finish with 19 minutes to go to put the Blues 3-1 up.
But this reckoned without the input of Zaha and Benteke.
Zaha’s goal was a superb strike, fiercely fired into the net via the crossbar from an unlikely distance. Benteke’s was more routine, tapped in from point-blank range following a neat move, but almost as surprising, it being his first goal at Selhurst Park since April 2018.
And Palace came within a whisker of snatching a point when Scott Dann’s back-post header struck the inside of the post before Chelsea hacked the ball clear.
Chelsea’s win means they move above Leicester into third place in the table, five points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United.
With 42 to their name, Palace have too many points to worry about being dragged into a relegation fight, but manager Roy Hodgson and his side will be eager to end a losing streak that has now stretched to four games.
Chelsea get the job done
Chelsea suffered a notable blip when they were beaten at West Ham six days ago, but apart from that their restart has gone pretty much to plan.
A return of 12 points from a possible 15 has ensured they remain firmly in the mix for a place in next season’s Champions League.
They are now above Leicester and have an advantage over the teams below them who pose the biggest threat to their Champions League hopes – Manchester United and Wolves.
Their performance once again showcased the attacking flair Frank Lampard has at his disposal, especially in Willian, who now has a couple of assists to go with the four goals he has scored since the restart, and Pulisic, who scored his third post-lockdown goal.
However, there remains a fragility at the back, with Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen not the most solid of centre-back pairings.
In front of them, Lampard opted for young midfielder Billy Gilmour in the absence of the injured N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic, which leaves further question marks over the future of Jorginho, who came on for the final 10 minutes but has yet to start a game since football returned.
However, in this compacted season finale and with the end goal in sight, wins are more important that perfect performances.
More to follow.