Jose Mourinho’s men lost a crucial game against a spirited Palace side which has now made the Blues too dependent on other results as their title aspirations slipped.
There have been many instances this season where Chelsea have lost out on the easier games because of their lack of ability to break down smaller teams who like to sit back and defend.
Whether it is the lack of a confident centre forward or the focus on counter attacking football, this season seems to be a huge step towards addressing the problems so that next season, when Mourinho finally admits that Chelsea will be front-runners, Chelsea can come out on top in all fixtures irrespective of the opposition defending deep.
Chelsea got it all mixed up in the starting line-up itself. Maybe Jose Mourinho was expecting another West Ham type game here as well, where the opponents would just sit back and defend without striking back. On the other hand, Palace were clever. Tony Pulis chose a physically strong and fast line-up that was tailor made for counter attacking. Chelsea’s employment of the ageing Frank Lampard behind Torres meant that the Blues’ legend would be looking for distance shooting opportunities. But that couldn’t happen as Palace did not offer Frank any shooting space and he could not even link up play with Schurrle and Hazard. The first half ended 0-0 but it looked unconvincing from Chelsea.
Ivanovic, Terry and Lampard were severely tested for pace by aggressive and direct approach by Cameron Jerome and Yannick Bolasie.
A couple of strong penalty shouts for the home side were ignored by the refree. David Luiz and Nemanja Matic were overworked as Ivanovic and Azpilicueta struggled, for the first time this season.
Luiz was instrumental in stopping some key counter attacks after some set-piece situations while acting as a sweeper but he got injured in the process because of a rash tackle by a Bolasie.
Chelsea midfield and attackers could not penetrate the home side’s defence, yet again.
Still, it was Chelsea who had the first chance of the match when Cesar Azpilicueta made an overlapping run and drilled a low cross for Andre Schurrle in the far post, which was brilliantly intercepted by a sliding Joel Ward.
Chelsea’s attempts to find Fernando Torres was futile as the striker was crowded by the hosts centre backs.
Palace, meanwhile, missed some glorious chances on the counter attack as Bolasie shot wide twice.
There was a Brazilian switch in the second half as Oscar came on for the injured David Luiz. But despite that, Palace counter attacked very sharply.
The hosts scored via an own goal by Chelsea skipper John Terry, when the overlapping Joel Ward crossed the ball for Joe Ledley, only for Terry to leap above him and head into his own net.
Mohamed Salah replaced Lampard as Mourinho tried his best to inject some creativity in his Chelsea side, but it was Palace who went close again with Puncheon firing narrowly wide across goal after a strong run by Jerome.
Mourinho turned to Demba Ba for the final 20 minutes as Chelsea thought of going all out for the recovery as Andre Schurrle was substituted. Hazard found himself one on one, but Speroni pulled off a miraculous save to deny the Belgian star.
Chelsea’s focus on attack left spaces at the back which resulted in more chances on the break for Palace when Jerome hit the post and Ledley missed another great chance.
Stuart O’Keefe’s poor back pass presented Torres with an opportunity who tried to chip over the rushing keeper but could only lob the ball wide.
Chelsea slipped to a fifth loss this season which means that the Blues just have a very tough mathematical chance for the title this season which makes them dependent on Manchester City and Liverpool to drop points.
This win can be very crucial for Crystal Palace as they earned all three points against top opponents in a highly competitive relegation battle.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta, David Luiz ( Oscar h/t), Matic, Lampard
(Salah 56); Schurrle (Ba 69), Torres, Hazard.
Palace (4-5-1): Speroni; Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Puncheon (Parr 90+1), Dikgacoi, Ledley,
Jedinak (c), Bolasie (O’Keefe 69); Jerome (Murray 88).
Booked: Bolasie 12, Puncheon 19, Dann 76, Mariappa 90.
Referee: Lee Mason