Chelsea were handed a rude awakening on Saturday as Big Sam and his Crystal Palace side beat the Blues 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea had the opportunity of extending their lead to 13 points atop the Premier League table. But, on Saturday, Big Sam and his Crystal Palace side handed Conte & co. a rude awakening and a glimpse of how cut-throat the Premier League is.
Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke took turns to score and set up each other to complete a an early comeback after going down to a Cesc Fabregas goal. The win sees Crystal Palace move to 31 points, 4 points away from the relegation zone while Chelsea’s lead is cut to 7 points.
We at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at some of the significant talking points to emerge from the result.
Tactical gamble backfires
Victor Moses was declared unfit for the game and while Antonio Conte could have gone for a more hard-working Willian, he instead chose to deploy Pedro in a more withdrawn role with Cesc Fabregas joining Eden Hazard behind Diego Costa.
However, Pedro was unable to perform his duties as tenaciously as Moses or perhaps Willian would have and while Pedro did not put much of a foot wrong, it was the choice of playing three centrally-minded players – Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante – that proved to be Chelsea’s downfall on the day.
The last time Fabregas, Kante and Matic started a match together? September 24, 2016. Our 3-0 loss to Arsenal
A lot has changed since then
— Cobham Blues (@cobhamblues) April 1, 2017
Seems a lot has not changed since then after all. Conte will have to be wary going into the final stretch of the campaign and tactical overtures such as these might just make the title race more exciting than perhaps, it should be.
Former Foes unite to bring down Conte & co.
It was the Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke show on the day as the players scored and assisted a piece each to defeat Chelsea. While Zaha and Benteke did not have much of a fruitful time at Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, both seemed to have found some footing at Palace now.
Wilfried Zaha’s Premier League season by numbers:
29 chances created
Strong season so far. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Nquuh3yLNp
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 1, 2017
And ultimately, it was players from United and Liverpool that oversaw Chelsea’ downfall on the day. Zaha, especially, ran the show on the wings, terrorizing the opposition every time he had the ball at his feet. Benteke, on the other hand, produced a bewildering finish.
THE DISRESPECT FROM BENTEKE 😵 pic.twitter.com/4szlzGYSY5
— PL Vines (@PLVines) April 1, 2017
A rare poor Kante display
It isn’t a coincidence that N’Golo Kante’s rare silent display came on the day that Chelsea were handed a loss at the hands of Crystal Palace. The Blues engine was far from his usual self on Saturday. Kante failed to produce one successful tackle, did not win a single header, had no dribbles and no shots attempted.
The midfield combination of Kante and Matic failed, perhaps, for the first time in the season after climbing atop the Premier League table. The result, coinciding with the shoddy display of the midfield, raises concerns of a lack of depth available at Conte’s disposal; an area that needs reinforcements in the summer.
Matic and Kante playing poorly when opposition press big shock!
— Elias. (@VbEH10) April 1, 2017
For, the second season is almost always the defining one in terms of establishing a side under a manager’s tactics. If Chelsea do end up replicating their transfer market failures in the summer as well, we could very well see more of the Saturday displays next season onwards.
Another profligate Diego Costa performance
Diego Costa has been imperious this season. However, there have been small runs of inconsistency and profligacy that have sprung about at different times. Saturday was one such case.
Diego Costa form stats from before the CSL offer and after.
— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) April 1, 2017
The Spaniard was dispossessed 4 times and while he had 4 shots, none of those were converted into goal(s), which meant that Chelsea were unable to peg Crystal Palace back. It seems the Chinese Super League offer has truly had an effect on the striker, as can be evidenced by the player’s statistics.
The striker has been linked to a summer exit and it seems Chelsea would be better off replacing the player with a menacing and more consistent striker in the summer.
Hennessey shows his class ; Courtois disappoints
Wayne Hennessey is an under-appreciated custodian. The Welshman has been instrumental on many occasions and on Saturday, he exuded class throughout the game. The 30-year-old made a staggering 10 saves in the match and was a key factor in Palace’s victory.
Courtois, on the other hand, was also key, albeit not in a positive way. The Belgian made just a solitary save and was left sniffing the ground by a brilliant Christian Benteke effort; one though, which should be down to more credit towards the striker than blame towards the goalkeeper.
— Wayne Hennessey Fans (@HennesseyFans) April 1, 2017
His contract runs out in the summer and by the looks of it, Palace should lock the player down. For, there would be no shortage of interest in the player, given his performances of late.