In one of its best all-around performances of the year thus far, Chelsea punished a lethargic Crystal Palace team and went on to win 4-1 at Selhurst Park. The victory propelled the Blues into fourth place in the league once again, at least for a day. Early goals helped immensely as Thomas Tuchel’s side was up 2-0 after 10 minutes. Clearly, it was one of—if not the—most dominant, complete games of the year to date. It’s beginning to become evident that Tuchel is slowly, perhaps inexorably, unlocking the talents of his forwards.
It was great to see Kai Havertz not only playing well at the No. 9 position, but excelling. To say that’s he’s just beginning to scratch the surface of his prodigious talent and just needed time was explored in a previous article—it’s an understatement. The first goal was a beauty of a shot by Havertz, whose brilliant strike found the back of the net after a nice bit of dribbling to position himself for the finish.
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It’s as clear as day that Havertz’s early struggles had nothing to do with his talent and more to do with his battle with Coronavirus, as well as other factors. Now seemingly at least close to full fitness, he’s beginning to put his stamp on this Blues side and show why he was the focus of so much attention last summer. As one who has clearly advocated patience with the new players—like Havertz and his fellow countryman, Timo Werner—it’s beginning to look like that suggestion was spot on. Next up will be Werner; count on that.
The next goal came from Christian Pulisic. Captain America, after a near miss early on a brilliant back-heel attempt and a great save by Vicente Guaita, atoned a bit later. Great build-up play by Ben Chilwell and Havertz was rewarded Pulisic as he doubled the lead in a hurry. The winger buried the finish on a tight-angle rocket to the roof of the net in the 10′ mark. That shot was reminiscent of last season after the restart when he was one of the dominant attacking players in the league.
Chilwell’s addition on the left side with his pace, skill and willingness to attack is being keenly felt in the final third. The good news is, he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his Chelsea career. The left back’s shooting accuracy and decision-making are maybe two of the only negatives one might cite in this contest, though his overall play was superb. Yet, he missed the goal on at least two occasions; one of which, if sent across the goal, could have been a sitter for Mason Mount.
30 minutes into the game, Kurt “Air Zouma” went to work high in the sky, heading in a cross and making the tally three and counting. Antonio Rudiger also had a nice go on a corner that could have put the tie completely on ice before the 35′. His header was cleared off the line by Palace though.
The midfield of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho delivered mixed results. As usual, the dual 6s possessed little finishing power or inclination. Kovacic delivered a plethora of good passes, however, with only an errant miss or two throughout. Jorginho, on the other hand, really looked to have little impact on the game or result. Yet, he was missed when substituted. Palace got on the scoresheet shortly (two minutes) after N’Golo Kante came on for the Italian at the 60′ minute mark, making the match a contest once more as Christian Benteke scored for Palace. Chelsea came out flat in the second half as Palace showed resilience in bagging thanks to Benteke. Tuchel didn’t keep his side properly motivated as they took the pitch following the break. That’s something that has to be addressed as it’s happened too often this season.
Pulisic then got back into the scoring, netting from in close on a nice feed from Reece James, who came on for Callum Hudson-Odoi. It was a very nice finish, an attribute that has been sorely lacking in the Blues’ squad this season. But in this mini-breakout, they had three goals from the forwards and one by the Flying Frenchman. Overall it was a very nice prelude to an upcoming all-out shellacking on one unlucky future opponent.
Interestingly, when Kovacic came off in the 82′, Mount dropped back into the dual-pivot along with Kante. He immediately made his presence felt by participating in an attack in a more forward position and at least attempting a shot. Clearly, Mount would add the missing dimension to the dual pivots, adding a scoring threat along with his indefatigable work rate. It’s still an interesting concept to contemplate as a more usual positioning in the future with either Kante or Kovacic astride.
There are many more comments available, like Rudiger’s Rock of Gibraltar presence on the left of the back three and Cesar Azpilicueta’s solidity on the right. In addition, Havertz himself sent weak shots twice to the keeper which should have been in the back of the net. All in all, it was a very sound and somewhat satisfying effort from Chelsea. Still waiting for that complete attacking outburst, but undoubtedly a great bounce-back win in the Premier League after the complete stinker against West Brom.