London - Chelsea moved into second place in the Premier League after first-half goals
from Fernando Torres and Ramires secured a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace at
Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
WRAP: ENGLISH PREMIERSHIP
Jose Mourinho's side took advantage of Arsenal's heavy 6-3 defeat at
Manchester City earlier in the day to move to within two points of the leaders.
But this was another unconvincing display from the Blues and Palace, rooted
in the bottom three, will consider themselves unlucky not to have added to
Marouane Chamakh's equaliser.
Chelsea manager Mourinho had restated his belief before this game that his
team are in a period of transition, even suggesting that the Europa League
champions could end the season empty-handed.
The stuttering performance against Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League
in mid-week supported the manager's view that his side are not firing on all
cylinders, although victory against the Romanian side ensured they qualified
for the knockout stage as group winners.
With Arsenal faltering, this was an opportunity for Chelsea to stake a claim
on the domestic front.
On paper at least, it should have been a routine three points for Mourinho's
side, despite Palace's recent resurgence under new manager Tony Pulis.
Three wins in four games had revived the visitors' season, moving Palace off
the foot of the table, but Pulis's side were making the short journey from
Selhurst Park more in hope than expectation.
And the way the opening stages of the match unfolded, it seemed there was
little prospect of an upset, with Chelsea quickly assuming control.
Pulis's impact on the visitors was apparent, with Palace appearing well
organised and defending impressively, but they were undone in the 16th minute.
Willian produced a burst of pace to take him past Mile Jedinak and create
enough space to drill in a low shot from 25 yards.
Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni made contact, but managed only to divert
the ball onto the post and Torres reacted first to side-foot the rebound into
an empty net for only his second league goal of the season.
A Cameron Jerome shot forced Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech into action, but
there were few signs an equaliser was imminent before an incisive move led to
Chamakh's 29th-minute leveller.
Torres conceded possession just inside his own half and David Luiz was
guilty of diving in as the ball was worked through Chamakh and Jason Puncheon
to Joel Ward on the left.
The full-back then whipped in a low cross towards Chamakh, who had drifted
away from John Terry and struck a left-foot volley from 12 yards out past Cech
for his third goal in three games.
Chelsea's frailties had again been exposed, but they restored their
advantage in the 35th minute thanks to an excellent finish from Ramires.
The Brazilian curled a long-range effort beyond Speroni after Eden Hazard
had created the opening with a positive run inside from the left-hand flank.
Palace finished the first half positively enough to encourage hopes they
could once again force their way back into the game.
And while Chelsea enjoyed territorial advantage for long periods, the
visitors could claim to have created the better openings, particularly when
Damien Delaney forced a smart save from Cech with a header from Puncheon's
Mourinho replaced Juan Mata with Oscar in a bid to spark life into his
side's attacking play, but Cech was again forced to protect his side's lead,
this time with an outstanding stop to deny Stuart O'Keefe.
Palace ran out of steam in the final stages and were unable to force an
equaliser, but while Chelsea had late chances to add a third, they were also
fortunate not to have dropped points.