1. Chamakh is back. So are Palace
Back in October when Crystal Palace lost at home to Arsenal, FFT saw promise stirring in Marouane Chamakh. While others laughed at his calamitous performances, we dared to say he was a decent player. We claimed Palace had a capable striker on their hands, as long as they played to his strengths.
Seven games later and he’s scored three goals. Now, we don’t want to say we told you say, but we’re going to: we told you so. However, we can’t take the credit – new Eagles boss Tony Pulis is the man behind the Moroccan’s renaissance.
Pulis has been in charge for four games and Chamakh has netted in three of them, including his tidy finish against Chelsea on Saturday. Pulis is deploying Chamakh just off frontman Cameron Jerome, and in that role the former Gunner has more time and space to get on the ball and link the play.
He’s not just there to win headers and tussle with defenders – he slows the play down and brings his team-mates into the game. He lost John Terry to score in the first half and in the second, as Palace rallied, his hold-up play enabled his side to press for an equaliser. They were unable to find that precious second goal, but this performance will give them plenty of confidence heading into the busy festive period.
2. Michael Essien sets the tone
Michael Essien started his first Premier League for 18 months against Southampton and quite frankly, he stunk the place out. Within 13 seconds he gifted the Saints the lead with an under hit back pass that Jay Rodriguez capitalised on. The rest of the half didn’t go well and Mourinho brought him off at half-time.
Against Crystal Palace, he reminded us why he’s been one of the best midfielders in Europe over the past 10 years. All of Chelsea’s play went through the Ghanaian – he collected the ball off the defence and fed it into the Blues’ creative sparks.
Essien was the game’s top passer – completing 83 of his 89 passes – registering a 93% success rate. He made 19 of these passes in the attacking third – the fifth highest total on the day. He was the game’s top dribbler – skipping away from challenges on five occasions. The midfield powerhouse also topped the charts for ball recoveries – mopping up 12 loose balls. It was an accomplished performance in all areas.
3. Punchy wingplay pulling Palace from the poop
Palace deserved a point at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea totally dominated the visitors in the first half, but in the second the hosts were put on the back foot. Instead of playing not to lose, Palace went out to win. One of their main protagonists was winger Jason Puncheon.
The Southampton loanee's pace, trickery and eagerness to get the ball into the box caused the home side all sorts of problems. He created four goalscoring chances – only Eden Hazard had more of a creative influence on the game. Puncheon was successful with four of his five attempted dribbles – the second best record over the 90 minutes.
With the former Blackpool man on the left, Yannick Bolasie on the right and Chamakh and Jerome up front, Pulis has enough firepower to escape the drop.
4. Eden Hazard is adding consistency to his class
The Belgium winger’s supreme talent has never been in doubt, unlike his ability to deliver week-in, week-out. He’s started to dispel these claims in recent weeks. Against Sunderland he netted twice and laid on another during a 4-3 win. He put in another impressive performance in Chelsea’s 3-2 loss against Stoke, and Palace were the latest team to fall victim to his swashbuckling play.
The former Lille wide boy was the third best passer on the day, finding a team-mate 59 times, and his passing numbers in the attacking third were unrivalled – 34 of his 39 attempts were successful. Hazard created six goalscoring chances, with Ramires converting one of these to restore Chelsea’s lead. If the 22-year-old can keep up this good form the Blues will be contenders to win some silverware, no matter what Mourinho says.
5. Pulis is more than just kick and rush
Unsurprisingly, Palace started this game conservatively. When Chelsea had the ball, the Eagles dropped in to two banks of four and challenged the hosts to break them down. Closing off the path to goal can work, but it has its risks and invites pressure.
This is a dangerous game to play against a side armed with Chelsea’s attacking talents and Palace were punished. Fernando Torres and Ramires both found the net, and in the first half Jose Mourinho’s side completed 304 of 345 passes.
The most prolific pass combinations in this period came between John Terry and Michael Essein (11) and Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta (9) – clearly Palace were happy for Chelsea to play from the back and they didn’t engage them until they got in the attacking third.
Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic were bombing forward, adding bodies to the attack, but Pulis saw an opportunity in Chelsea’s gung-ho approach: he knew there was exploitable space in behind Chelsea's full-backs. Early in the second half Pulis replaced Barry Bannan with Bolasie. Palace got the ball to the substitute and Puncheon, forcing Chelsea’s full-backs to rein in their forward runs.
In the first half the south Londoners were only successful with 71 of their 115 passes. After the interval they had more of the ball and were more accurate with their passes - 91 of their 133 attempts found their target. In the second half Puncheon created four chances for his team while Bolasie had two successful dribbles and stung the hands of Petr Cech with a rasping shot. Palace ended the game with 10 shots on goal – 8 of which came in the second half.
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