New year, fresh start for the champions: 5 things from Crystal Palace 0-3 Chelsea

FFT's Gregg Davies was in the press box at Selhurst Park to analyse the Blues' biggest league win for almost a year using Stats Zone – FREE on iOS and Android...

We needed the first goal. Chelsea stepped on from the first goal and we couldn’t get ourselves going. We started to force things away from our game plan. Every game we’ve been involved until the end, but not today

- Alan Pardew

1. No happy anniversary for Pardew

It’s 12 months to the day since Alan Pardew was confirmed as Crystal Palace’s manager, and his opening 43 games in charge had produced an impressive 23 victories. But this proved to be an afternoon to forget for the Londoner, whose side came up against a Chelsea outfit that shrugged off the fact that they had gone 7 Premier League away games without a victory since beating West Brom in August.

The Eagles began this rain-soaked encounter positively enough, forcing a couple of early corners. But unable to call upon the attacking trident of Yannick Bolasie, Bakary Sako and Yohan Cabaye, there was little for the hosts to shout about after Wilfried Zaha had fired narrowly wide, and once Chelsea had edged ahead on the half hour they were unable to mount any kind of comeback.

“We needed the first goal,” Pardew said post-match, having seen his team win just 2 of their last 7 league games on home soil. “We have so many injuries up the top of the pitch.

"Chelsea stepped on from the first goal and we couldn’t get ourselves going. We started to force things away from our game plan. It’s been tight in every game, we’ve been involved until the end, but not today.”

2. Zouma’s early interventions crucial

Looking to avoid a first ever league double against the Eagles, Chelsea had to weather a metaphorical storm amid the actual storm at Selhurst Park with Kurt Zouma crucial to keeping the visitors’ clean sheet in tact. The powerful French defender thwarted an early left wing raid by Lee Chung-yong, before clearing his lines after right-back Joel Ward’s centre had caused some consternation in the Blues’ penalty area.

By the end, the talented 21-year-old had completed more clearances than anyone else on the pitch on top of winning 4 of his 6 aerial duels, and he could easily have got on the scoresheet, too; nodding Willian’s second half free-kick narrowly wide while the score was still 1-0 to the visitors.

“If a team is not doing well during a very long period then it’s rather human to look for security and that is why we emphasised the good hard work tactically in a defensive way,” said Guus Hiddink.

“That means that I don’t like to see a team drop back to seek false security but to look forwards and get the ball as soon as possible. They have to invest in the dirty work, not just the beautiful game, because this league is very demanding. If you think that you can do it just on your quality, then this league is killing you.”

He can read the game very well. He knows how to cope with the strength of the opponent. He has a very good eye, very good knowledge, very good sense of where to recover and he doesn’t do it in a very brutal way but a very elegant way. What I like to see very much is not just the quality players but also one player who can defend. For me it is beautiful

- Guus Hiddink

3. Mikel the 'ideal player' to bring balance to Blues

The Nigerian hasn’t always been every Chelsea supporter’s cup of tea, but the signs are that the holding midfielder is set for an extended run in the Blues’ engine room. Handed a rare start at Old Trafford on Monday, Mikel completed a game-high 12 ball recoveries as he screened the back four to decent effect. And the 28-year-old carried on where he left off at Selhurst Park to the extent that the travelling fans were cheering his every touch throughout the second period.

Here, Mikel weighed in with another 7 ball recoveries, won 3 of his 4 tackles - including one in the second half to prevent Zaha from speeding away on the counter-attack -  and completed 78 of his 82 passes, providing a stable platform from which his more creative team-mates could prosper further forward.

“I think he is the ideal player to bring balance in the team," said Hiddink. "If the team is not willing to defend well or not have the right balance then you concede a lot of goals. John can be one of the key figures in getting the balance back, because the talented players are able to explore their qualities.

“He can read the game very well. He knows how to cope with the strength of the opponent. He has a very good sense of where to recover and he doesn’t do it in a brutal way but an elegant way. What I like to see is not just the quality players but also one player who can defend. For me it is beautiful to see.”

4. Hazard misses the party as flair players flourish

Eden Hazard’s departure through injury after 16 minutes - his second early exit in 4 outings - could have signalled the start of another afternoon of toil for the champions. But with Mikel holding the fort, Chelsea’s attack line were able to begin 2016 by winding the clock back to the early stages of last season.

Diego Costa set up Oscar for the opener, Oscar teed up Willian for the second and Willian laid on the third for Costa in a triumph for tidiness, and by full-time Oscar, Willian and Cesc Fabregas had completed a combined 73 attacking third passes; more than the entire Crystal Palace team.

Fabregas in particular looked more like the 2014 version, completing 94 passes, making 10 ball recoveries and playing a key role in the opening goal. While Costa himself has thrived since the return of interim boss Hiddink, who has lost just one of 16 Premier League matches across his two spells in the Blues’ dugout.

“I try to focus the players on why you’re here and what your quality is," said Hiddink, "and if you try to get him [Costa] focused on what he’s good at, and not wasting energy on tonterias as they say in Spain (silly stuff), then they get what they’re able to do, and he proved that already in the past games.”

5. Ivanovic enjoys easier ride

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One of the features of Chelsea’s August defeat to the Eagles was Branislav Ivanovic’s struggles at right-back, with 50% of Palace’s first half attacks coming from the Serb’s side of the pitch. The opening minutes at Selhurst suggested a similar tactic was being employed, but although Zaha was able to cut inside and fire a shot wide, the two-time England international couldn’t turn additional raids down the left into meaningful opportunities, and when his one chance came to equalise early in the second period, he shot tamely at Thibaut Courtois.

Before kick-off Zaha had attempted 123 dribbles this season, 13 more than any other Premier League player ahead of Riyad Mahrez (110). But while Leicester’s Algerian flanker has scored 13 league goals and set up 7 more, Zaha has yet to assist this term and attempted another 12 take-ons on Sunday afternoon, beating his man on just 5 occasions.

Ivanovic won 3 of his 4 tackles, with fellow full-back Cesar Azpilicueta rock solid on the opposite side, winning 7 of his 8 tackles and making 4 interceptions. The Spaniard was also the Blues’ third best passer of the match, completing 55 of 64, and he might have doubled the West Londoners’ lead after latching onto Oscar’s lovely diagonal pass and lashing the ball at goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

Match facts

  • This is Chelsea’s first away victory in their last 8 Premier League away games (L4 D3) and the first since August when they beat West Brom 3-2 at The Hawthorns.
  • Crystal Palace have enjoyed just 2 wins in their last 7 home Premier League games (D2 L3).
  • Eden Hazard has gone 2289 minutes without a goal for Chelsea in all competitions (since scoring vs Crystal Palace on May 3, 2015).
  • Oscar has netted 2 in his last 4 in all competitions for Chelsea after netting just 1 in the 14 before that.
  • Diego Costa's assist was his first in his last 20 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea.
  • 7 of Willian's 8 goals for Chelsea this season in all competitions have come from outside the box.
  • Costa has had a hand in 4 goals in his last 2 Premier League games (3 goals, 1 assist), the same total he managed in his previous 14 league appearances this season.
  • Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in 9 of their last 12 London derbies in the Premier League.
  • Chelsea registered their biggest Premier League win in almost a year, since beating Swansea 5-0 on January 17, 2015.

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