Man City move clear of Man United at top, Chelsea lose to Palace
LONDON - Three quick thoughts on Crystal Palace 2-1 Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
1. Palace dent Chelsea's title charge
This is why football is the greatest. When a team starts a season with seven defeats, not managing to muster a goal, then have to face the reigning champions in their next game, all logic points to the run being extended to eight games. But Crystal Palace defied such logic on Saturday, holding on to beat Chelsea 2-1 at Selhurst Park.
Wilfried Zaha, making his first start since the opening day, was the catalyst for the victory. Pressed into action as an auxiliary centre-forward, Zaha scored what turned out to be the winner just before half time, after Tiemoue Bakayoko had cancelled out Palace's opener, a Cesar Azpilicueta own-goal. At the final whistle, the stands shook with relief: you'd imagine even the eagle that flies around the ground before games breathed deeply.
If you'd arrived at Selhurst Park with no prior knowledge of the season, you wouldn't have thought Palace had managed to avoid scoring a goal all season. Their fans, often the loudest in the Premier League anyway, were buoyant, and their team equally sparky, Andros Townsend and Zaha forming a makeshift but undeniably dynamic front pairing.
And after 11 minutes their play was rewarded, if extremely fortunately. Townsend got to the byline, cut it back into the middle, David Luiz bundled the ball against Yohan Cabaye's thigh. It was heading wide, but flicked off Cesar Azpilicueta and into the net. Palace were ahead, a mere 731 minutes after their last Premier League goal, scored by Patrick van Aanholt against a doomed Hull City in May.
But it was in part the full-back who helped pop their bubble seven minutes later. Van Aanholt was supposed to be marking Bakayoko from a Cesc Fabregas corner, but instead seemed to take a brief nap on the edge of the six-yard box, allowing the French midfielder to head into the ground and up into the top corner. It was a heartbreakingly simple and careless way to ruin what had been a hugely positive start.
Chelsea had the better chances for the rest of the half, but Palace stayed in the game, and moments before the break they took the lead. Mamadou Sakho smartly dispossessed a dithering Willian and played in Zaha, who skipped past Azpilicueta, stumbled but kept his balance and slotted into the net.
Chelsea played with more purpose after the break, even if the relatively early substitution of Michy Batshuayi displayed exactly how little Antonio Conte trusts the Belgian. Chelsea pressed further forwards and despite carving out a few presentable chances, they couldn't break through.
With a few minutes to go, Van Aanholt missed a golden chance for Palace, putting a rebound from a Townsend shot wide with the goal begging to be breached. But despite Sakho trying a back heeled clearance from his own six-yard box in injury-time, Palace held on.
2. Flat champions struggle with injuries
A busy few weeks lie ahead for Chelsea. They have six games in the next 21 days, including having to play Roma twice and the visit of Manchester United at the start of November. Their next free midweek will come in the second week of November, and while their other league fixtures aren't the most testing in their schedule, until then Conte and his players will just have to hold their breath and get through it.
That might be even more difficult considering the injuries in an already shallow squad. Alvaro Morata should be back for the first of those Champions League games against Roma on Wednesday, but N'Golo Kante could miss that entire run -- Danny Drinkwater too and Victor Moses limped off here with a hamstring problem. Throw in Conte's apparent suspicion of Batshuayi and his options don't look particularly enticing.
This week, Conte mentioned the possibility of having to use Ethan Ampadu, a midfielder signed from Exeter in the summer who only turned 17 a few weeks ago. Charly Musonda came on against Palace, when in an ideal world Conte might have wanted to keep him on the sidelines after seeming to criticise his manager on Instagram recently.
It is, of course, a little tricky to have excessive sympathy for a Chelsea manager when it comes to resources, but this only serves to emphasise why Conte was so unimpressed by their summer transfer business. A couple of injuries and he has to rely on untried youngsters and players he doesn't really want.
This could prove to be a crucial phase of the season for Chelsea, and they'll have to get through it while significantly hampered.
3. Zaha return boosts Eagles' hopes
If you pay attention to things like expected goals, or perhaps if you've simply watched Crystal Palace play this season, you'll know they haven't been nearly as bad as their record suggested. They have been creating enough chances but have just lacked either a little luck or the ruthlessness to finish them off.
They got both in the first half against Chelsea, as their opening goal bounced in off some unfortunate part of Azpilicueta, while their second came from a smart finish by the returning Zaha. That Zaha has been missing since the first game of the season is a big reason for their struggles.
He doesn't just offer pace, which is obvious, but also a dynamism in his thinking: he might dazzle with tricks and stepovers, but to see him run at an opposition defence is to see a man who has plotted the most direct path to goal, and uses his physical gifts to get him there as quickly as possible.
Roy Hodgson struck a note of mild caution before the match. "I have seen him change a game," Hodgson said. "I know he has the ability and capability. But we have to be careful ... At the moment, to put all that on Wilfried Zaha's plate would be totally wrong. If we're not careful, he'll be trying too hard; trying to do it all by himself. Once players start to do that, their own game suffers. He's got to be an important cog in a well-oiled machine and our job is to make certain that the machine is well enough oiled to produce that X-Factor."
It was a typically Hodgsonian way of saying "Yeah, this guy's our best player, but we have to help him out."
But as his goal and general play showed against Chelsea, if Palace are to clamber out of this mess Zaha will be a big reason for it.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.
Manchester City continued their high-scoring start to the Premier League season with a 7-2 against Stoke.
City have now scored 29 goals in eight games this season and sit two points clear of nearest rivals Manchester United, who could only manage a 0-0 draw with Liverpool.
Goals from Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and David Silva in the opening half hour put Pep Guardiola's side in a commanding position, before Mame Biram Diouf and a Kyle Walker own goal looked to have brought Stoke back into the game.
However, a second goal from Gabriel and further strikes from Fernandinho, Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva made sure of the points for City as they racked up a seventh win in eight games.
United's trip to Liverpool again failed to live up to expectations as Jose Mourinho's safety-first policy saw him once more frustrate the hosts at Anfield in a goalless draw.
United goalkeeper David De Gea made one brilliant reaction save from Joel Matip in the first half but Jurgen Klopp's side failed to break down well-organised opponents.
It is a criticism which has been regularly levelled at United this season but was perhaps excusable on this occasion considering the rivalry and the quality -- United began the day joint top -- they faced.
While United were not as dour as in last season's game here, there was no doubt Mourinho had reined in the attacking intent of a side which had previously scored 33 goals in 11 matches.
Crystal Palace ended a run of seven defeats without scoring by beating Premier League champions Chelsea 2-1 at Selhurst Park.
Palace went ahead courtesy of a Cesar Azpilicueta own goal in the 11th minute, when Yohan Cabaye's effort was deflected past Thibaut Courtois in the Chelsea goal.
The lead was short-lived as Tiemoue Bakayoko headed Chelsea level from a Cesc Fabregas corner in the 18th minute.
But Wilfried Zaha, on his return from injury, slid Palace back in front at the end of the first-half to earn them a much-needed first win of the season.
Tottenham won their first Premier League game at Wembley, beating Bournemouth 1-0.
Christian Eriksen was set up to score by Dele Alli three minutes into the second half.
Eriksen looked to have set Harry Kane up to score a second shortly before the hour mark but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Kane was also denied twice at point-blank range as Spurs searched in vain for a second goal.
Michail Antonio's 19th-minute strike was not enough to earn 10-man West Ham three important points against Burnley.
Antonio rounded Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope to score following a long ball forward from Joe Hart.
Soon after the Hammers were a man down when Andy Carroll received two yellow cards in the space of 99 seconds, the second of which was for contesting an aerial ball.
And Burnley made their numerical advantage count thanks to Chris Wood's equaliser in the 85th minute.
Tammy Abraham scored either side of half-time to give Swansea a 2-0 win against newly promoted Huddersfield.
The hosts capitalised on a mistake by Huddersfield goalkeeper Jonas Lossl to take the lead in the 42nd minute.
Then, three minutes after the break, Chelsea loanee Abraham added a second following good work from Jordan Ayew.
That victory ended Swansea's run of four games without a win, but saw Huddersfield go a fourth game without scoring.
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