Oscar and Cesc Fabregas scored an eye-catching goal apiece to give Chelsea a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in a match that saw both teams finish with 10 men. Chelsea’s goals came in each half, one a brilliant individual strike, the other a team goal of the highest order. Oscar’s free-kick whipped into the top corner after just six minutes put Chelsea ahead in an entertaining first half featuring chances at both ends.
Within a five-minute spell before halftime, madness ensued on both sides when first Cesar Azpilicueta was shown a straight red card for a dangerously high tackle and then Palace’s Damien Delaney quickly eradicated the numerical discrepancy by picking up a second yellow. The game remained in the balance, but Fabregas’s finish after he, Eden Hazard and Oscar played their part in a flowing move of the highest caliber that long appeared to end it as a contest. Frazier Campbell’s 90th minute strike brought late excitement, but no way back for the home side.
There will be some frustration from Jose Mourinho that his side let a clean sheet slip late on, especially after much of the second half had been played out in almost total comfort -- particularly pleasing given the visit of Maribor in the Champions League on Tuesday. Most importantly, of course, the win preserves Chelsea’s five-point advantage at the top of the Premier League. And it continues to appear a daunting challenge for any team to keep pace with their seemingly relentless drive toward the title. Making this victory more impressive was that for the first time since his arrival, Chelsea won without Diego Costa in the starting lineup. With the prolific striker again troubled by a hamstring injury, Loic Remy stepped in, but it was Oscar and Fabregas who stepped up.
It was not all one-way traffic, however, and a Crystal Palace side that drop to 16th after this result gave Chelsea some concerns before Delaney crucially surrendered their upper hand on the stroke of halftime. At the start the contest was an open affair, with Campbell forcing a save from Thiabaut Courtois in the opening two minutes. It wasn’t long before Chelsea were in front, thanks to an outstanding strike. With the ball placed right of center, 25 yards out, Oscar struck it with extraordinary whip to take it soaring toward the far corner. Despite Julian Speroni being stationed on that side of the goal he could do nothing to prevent the ball from nestling in his top corner.
Even having gone behind, Palace and Campbell continued to threaten. Gary Cahill twice let himself down with poor pieces of defending, but on both occasions the former Cardiff and Sunderland striker failed to take advantage, first lifting a shot onto the roof of the net and then putting one wide of the far post. And, after James McArthur cleared off the line from John Terry’s header, Palace’s hopes of getting back into the match were given a further boost.
Azpilicueta could have no complaints about seeing a red card for an awful high tackle that saw his studs clatter into the ankle of Mile Jedinak. A melee ensued and more cards could have followed. It was not long before they did. Inexcusably surrendering the numerical advantage his team had just been handed, Delaney brainlessly tugged back Remy and was booked for a second time in 15 minutes to bring the teams to 10 men apiece by the interval.
Advantage gone, it took just six minutes of the second half for Palace’s realistic hopes of getting something out of the fixture to go the same way. It was, though, a goal worthy of winning any game. Already the move had been a stylish one before Fabregas and Hazard injected real pace and purpose into it with a lightening quick pinball interchange. Oscar then played his part, too, with the crucial final pass to return the ball to Fabregas, who ensured an end-product to a brilliant buildup.
Chelsea almost immediately went into a comfort zone, now happy to play keep-ball while Palace toiled in vain. Although Cahill made a fine saving tackle to deny Yannick Bolasie a sight of goal, there was little to suggest they would be punished for not pushing to increase their lead. And although Wilfried Zaha skipped too easily past substitute Filipe Luis to cross for Campbell to turn in, there was nothing to stop Chelsea marching on.