Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 2: Is the Premier League title race still alive? Zaha and Benteke silence Stamford Bridge

Sam Wallace
Wilfried Zaha and David Luiz battle for the ball - Rex Features

They had 79 minutes to find the equaliser and there were times when it felt like an inevitability for Chelsea but perhaps, for the first time in three months, there is not quite the certainty about the outcome of the Premier League title race that had previously been assumed.

The first defeat for the league leaders since they went down at White Hart Lane on Jan 4 and only the second they have suffered all season at Stamford Bridge – the first being back in September to Liverpool before the Antonio Conte revolution kicked in. It was not as if Chelsea did not create the chances today, simply that the fine margins were on the side of the victors Crystal Palace.

For that reason Conte will not panic about this defeat, even if the gap to Tottenham in second is now down to seven points, although he will need a reaction when his team return to Stamford Bridge to play Manchester City on Wednesday. That will indeed be a defining evening in the title race when Conte’s team either reassert their supremacy of slide back closer to the chasing pack.

It was a great day for Sam Allardyce and his resilient team, including goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey who made a number of fine saves. Allardyce lost James Tomkins to injury at half-time and then his replacement Scott Dann 15 minutes into the second half but Palace held on and they had the best player on the pitch in Wilfried Zaha, the scorer of his team’s first goal.

This was a hard day’s work for the new Ivory Coast international but he ran at Chelsea relentlessly in unpromising circumstances and unsettled their defence whenever he could. There was a brilliantly taken second from Christian Benteke, the third goal in the first 11 minutes after Cesc Fabregas had opened the scoring.

Chelsea 1 - 0 Crystal Palace (Cesc Fàbregas, 5 min)

The Spanish midfielder was picked in the same side as Nemanja Matic and stationed in a wide right position with Victor Moses, the former Palace man, injured. As a consequence, the 3-4-3 formation lacked width and Conte abandoned it in the second half for a conventional 4-4-2.  Palace struck so rapidly in the first half, two goals in the space of two minutes and both of them strange affairs culminating in fine finishes from the men in question.

Zaha had picked the ball up from Benteke’s lay-off and twisted away from a challenge on the edge of the area but there were still three Chelsea men between him and the goal when he struck his shot. It was hard to see how it could get past Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and Marcos Alonso but it evaded them all.

Chelsea 1 - 1 Crystal Palace (Wilfried Zaha, 9 min)

That was the equaliser after Fabregas scored within four minutes. He flighted a marvellous ball from deep on the right side to Eden Hazard and it was as if the winger was awaiting his team-mate’s arrival in the penalty area as he delayed over the cut-back, before rolling it into the feet of the midfielder who clipped it in first time off the near post.

At 1-1, Palace struck again, a goal with inauspicious beginnings, a Benteke gallop down the left channel. He got a ricochet, and a pass back from Zaha and suddenly the Belgian was in the clear. Presented with the task of beating Thibaut Courtois he did so with a calmness that was arresting, putting the big goalkeeper on the floor with a feint and then chipping it gently past him.

Chelsea 1 - 2 Crystal Palace (Christian Benteke, 11 min)

From the away end came the boom of smoke flares, smuggled in past the sniffer dogs and the bag-checks and disrupting the usual serene procession to three points to which the home crowd have become accustomed. Conte’s players pushed hard before half-time and were only denied an equaliser by a number of saves by Hennessey.

The Palace goalkeeper was consistently the right man in the right place although he does have an unfortunate habit of occasionally pushing the ball back into the melee rather than away from danger. He was fortunate that it always seemed to fall at the feet of one of his team-mates.   

Hennessey was equal to it all in the second half and on the occasions when the Palace goalkeeper fell short, Diego Costa seemed unable to convert. A bad day for the big striker and for Conte too who brought on Willian and then Michy Batshuayi who partnered Costa in attack. Zaha almost had a second on 61 minutes but Courtois got a fingertip to the shot

Palace survived seven minutes added on at the end, for the treatment to Dann, injured in a tackle with Costa. Zaha struck one over the bar in that time and Chelsea ran out of ideas.

3:47PM

West Brom were unadventurous in the first 45

West Brom managed just a solitary, off-target shot in the first half.

Man Utd vs West Brom shots on goal 3:47PM

Average touch positions (half time)

Average touch positions (half time) 3:47PM

Half time: Man Utd 0-0 West Brom

The half-time whistle blows at Old Trafford.

3:45PM

The hosts looking dangerous in this first half

Chelsea have frequently threatened the Crystal Palace goal - ten shots have been attempted, with seven of them on target.

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace shots on goal 3:41PM

The shot count is similar

Burnley and Spurs are evenly matched in attack so far - the vistors have fired in six shots to the hosts' five.

Burnley vs Spurs shots on goal 3:38PM

Hull hit back

Hull register their first shot, in response to three so far from West Ham.

Hull vs West Ham shots on goal 3:38PM

West Brom attack yet to make much of an impression

The visitors haven't yet managed to apply some concerted pressure on the Man Utd backline.

Man Utd vs West Brom 3:37PM

Chelsea pressing forward as they chase the game

Crystal Palace have the lead, but the hosts are still finding openings in the final third.

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace 3:36PM

Stoke looking unadventurous so far

Stoke are yet to pose a significant threat in the final third.

Leicester vs Stoke 3:34PM

West Brom finally have a shot of their own

West Brom finally register their first shot, but Man Utd have already fired in seven so far.

Man Utd vs West Brom shots on goal 3:33PM

Stoke finally respond

The visitors finally have a shot - Leicester had already fired in eight without reply.

Leicester vs Stoke shots on goal 3:31PM

Neither side taking control of the game yet

Watford having more of the ball so far, with 197 touches to 172 from Sunderland.

Watford vs Sunderland 3:26PM

Spurs enjoying plenty of touches of the ball so far

Spurs have had 201 touches of the ball compared to 111 by Burnley.

Burnley vs Spurs 3:26PM

GOAL!

Wilfred Ndidi scores for Leicester to make it 1-0!

Leicester 1 - 0 Stoke (Wilfred Ndidi, 25 min) 3:25PM

Chelsea can't make their domination of the ball count

For all their possession, the hosts still trail to Crystal Palace.

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace 3:18PM

GOAL!

Andy Carroll scores for West Ham to make it 0-1!

Hull 0 - 1 West Ham (Andy Carroll, 18 min) 3:16PM

It's been a shot-shy start to Man Utd v West Brom

Tense opening quarter of an hour at Old Trafford, as Man Utd and West Brom struggle to get shots on goal

Man Utd vs West Brom shots on goal 3:15PM

It's been a shot-shy start to Leicester v Stoke

Tense opening quarter of an hour at King Power Stadium, as Leicester and Stoke struggle to get shots on goal

Leicester vs Stoke shots on goal 3:13PM

Man Utd are dominating the ball so far

Man Utd have had 137 touches of the ball compared to 47 by West Brom.

Man Utd vs West Brom 3:12PM

Spurs threaten for the first time

Following the earlier Burnley effort, Spurs register their first attempt at goal.

Burnley vs Spurs shots on goal 3:12PM

Watford have their first strike at goal

Watford respond to the earlier Sunderland effort with their first shot of the game.

Watford vs Sunderland shots on goal 3:11PM

GOAL!

A goal from Christian Benteke for Crystal Palace makes the score 1-2.

Chelsea 1 - 2 Crystal Palace (Christian Benteke, 11 min) 3:09PM

GOAL!

1-1: Wilfried Zaha scores the leveller for Crystal Palace.

Chelsea 1 - 1 Crystal Palace (Wilfried Zaha, 9 min) 3:09PM

Crystal Palace hit back

Crystal Palace register their first shot, in response to two so far from Chelsea.

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace shots on goal 3:05PM

GOAL!

1-0! Cesc Fàbregas strikes to give Chelsea the early lead.

Chelsea 1 - 0 Crystal Palace (Cesc Fàbregas, 5 min) 3:01PM

Kick off: Burnley vs Spurs

We're under way at Turf Moor.

3:00PM

Kick off: Man Utd vs West Brom

We're under way at Old Trafford.

3:00PM

Kick off: Chelsea vs Crystal Palace

They're off and running at Stamford Bridge.

3:00PM

Kick off: Hull vs West Ham

We're under way at KCOM Stadium.

3:00PM

Kick off: Watford vs Sunderland

The action gets started at Vicarage Road.

3:00PM

Kick off: Leicester vs Stoke

They're off and running at King Power Stadium.

11:24AM

Match previews

Afternoon all. We have six 3pm kick-offs this afternoon for your reading pleasure and we'll have all the goals as they go in across the country thanks to the futuristic powers of our loyal and obedient Roboblogger.

We also have a separate blog up and running for Manchester United vs West Brom which you can follow right here.

While we're waiting for the action to get under way, here are some predictions from our writers:

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace

Chelsea's stroll to the Premier League title has been so comfortable that it has almost become boring over the past couple of months. Do not expect Palace to make things interesting as Sam Allardyce will set his team up to try and frustrate the Blues.

Matt Law's prediction: Chelsea 2 Crystal Palace 0

Burnley vs Tottenham

Only a victory will suffice for Tottenham, as they seek to preserve their faint hopes of catching Chelsea at the top of the table and ensure that the other top four challengers are kept at arms-length.

However, that is easier said than done at Turf Moor. Burnley are formidable on their own patch and will make life as uncomfortable as possible.

Steven Sutcliffe’s match prediction: Burnley 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur

Hull vs West Ham

Marco Silva's relegation-threatened Hull face the first of two, crucial home games in five days, with Middlesbrough to follow on Wednesday. West Ham arrive in mid-table but manager Slaven Bilic is under scrutiny following three successive defeats. Robert Snodgrass returns to face his former club after exiting in January.

Arindam Rej's match prediction: 2-2

Leicester vs Stoke

Craig Shakespeare is already making management look easy, as he searches for a fifth successive win since succeeding Claudio Ranieri.

Leicester appeared doomed to relegation earlier this year but will be only three points behind ninth-placed Stoke if they can record another victory.

John Percy's prediction: Leicester 2 Stoke 1

Man Utd vs West Brom

Jose Mourinho views this as a big weekend in the top-four battle. He will be without key personnel, though.

James Ducker's prediction: 2-1

Watford vs Sunderland

Watford are seven points above the relegation zone, while Sunderland are seven points from safety, so this qualifies as a relegation battle. Watford have won only two league games since mid-December beating Arsenal and Burnley.

Gerry Cox's match prediction: 1-1

PL clubs form after international break

 

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