Chelsea’s fine run of away form came to an abrupt end at Selhurst Park this afternoon as Crystal Palace picked up their first points of the season.
It was a frustrating afternoon for the Blues who started slowly and were punished when Cesar Azpiliucueta unfortunately deflected a shot into his own net.
Tiemoue Bakayoko’s header got us back on level terms before long and though we improved thereafter, it was our hosts who led at the interval through Wilfried Zaha. He once again proved a constant menace to our backline.
Chances came and went after the break with Cesc Fabregas hitting the bar and sub Charly Musonda volleying over, though it must be said the hosts could have extended their advantage as the game became more stretched.
That means it is back-to-back league defeats. The chance to respond comes quickly, with Roma the visitors to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League on Wednesday night.
Michy Batshuayi was chosen to lead the line in place of the injured Alvaro Morata, while Antonio Conte opted to switch back to a 3-4-3 shape having used an extra man in midfield against Atletico Madrid and Manchester City.
David Luiz returned to the heart of the defence with his suspension now served, and Willian joined the Belgians Batshuayi and Eden Hazard in attack.
Palace’s two major changes came at either end of the pitch. Julian Speroni replaced Wayne Hennessey in goal, and Zaha returned from an injury sustained on the opening day.
It was the Ivory Coast international who came close to opening the scoring with just three minutes played. Fortunately for the Blues – in white today – Thibaut Courtois spread himself and blocked the close-range effort. Andros Townsend had done well to set up the chance.
It was that man who set up the first goal of the afternoon on 11 minutes which, on the balance of play up to that point, Palace thoroughly deserved.
Gary Cahill and Marcos Alonso had already had to make important interceptions, and that was exactly what David Luiz and Azpilicueta were trying to do to stop Yohan Cabaye getting a shot away, but the unfortunate Spaniard only succeeded in diverting the ball past the wrongfooted Courtois. It was Palace’s first league goal of the season.
What Conte’s men needed was some time in possession, and at the end of our first decent spell with the ball, Azpilicueta whipped in what is fast becoming a trademark dangerous cross. Nobody in white was there to meet it, but the same could not be said of the next delivery sent in from wide on the right.
It was a Fabregas corner floated to the edge of the six-yard box and met emphatically by Bakayoko, whose downward header zipped off the turf and into the top corner. The Frenchman’s first Premier League goal had arrived at an important moment.
In response, the livewire Zaha flashed an effort of his own into the ground and, courtesy of a crucial touch from Cahill, narrowly beyond the far post.
Shortly after the half-hour mark, Alonso had a shot deflected wide after Willian had dummied a Moses cross. It was the Nigerian’s last meaningful involvement as he pulled up clutching the back of his thigh soon after. Davide Zappacosta was the natural replacement.
Townsend and Fabregas exchanged threatening long shots before the half was up, and some dogged defending from first Joel Ward and then Scott Dann denied Hazard and Batshuayi in quick succession.
There was to be a third goal before the half-time whistle and it went the home side’s way. Mamadou Sakho dispossessed Willian and slipped in Zaha. He got ahead of Azpilicueta and Zappacosta before calmly slotting past Courtois.
It was a goal that summed up a disappointing first period for the Blues.
Conte would have been hoping for improvements straight away and he watched on as Fabregas clipped the top of the bar with a sweetly-struck 25-yarder soon after the restart.
The boss made his first unenforced substitution on 57 minutes, bringing Pedro on for Batshuayi. From another dangerous Cesc corner, Alonso glanced a near-post header over. An hour had been played.
Conte didn’t wait long to make his final change, replacing Willian with Musonda. Pedro forced a stop from Speroni and Zappacosta did likewise after cutting on to his left.
The Blues kept our foot on the gas. Fabregas dinked a lovely ball over the top – the offside flag stayed down unlike a couple of occasions earlier in the half – and Musonda took it on his chest but skewed over.
Alonso headed at Speroni, and then a fine low Zappacosta cross flew beyond the stretching Hazard, now in the central striking position. Would it be one of those days?
The home fans might have been thinking similar when Patrick van Aanholt blasted wide with the goal at his mercy after Courtois spilled a Townsend strike with five to play.
But we could not capitalise on that miss despite plenty of pressure in the closing stages, including a close-range effort Fabregas couldn’t direct goalwards.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses (Zappacosta 40), Fabregas, Bakayoko, Alonso; Willian (Musonda 64), Batshuayi (Pedro 57), Hazard.
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Rudiger, Scott.
Scorer Bakayoko 18
Crystal Palace (4-3-1-2): Speroni; Ward, Dann (c), Sakho, Van Aanholt; McArthur (Fosu-Mensah 85), Milivojevic, Schlupp (Puncheon 75); Cabaye (Riedewald 86); Townsend, Zaha.
Unused subs Henry, Tomkins, Kaikai, Sako.
Scorers Azpilicueta (og) 11, Zaha 45
Booked Milivojevic 71, Dann 83