Saturday, April 1, 2017
Chelsea's lead at the top of the Premier League
Antonio Conte's side had won their past 10 league games at Stamford Bridge and had not lost
there in any competition since 16 September, but saw that run ended by a battling Eagles side.
The Blues struck first, when Cesc Fabregas turned home Eden Hazard's cross after five minutes, but they were quickly behind.
Wilfried Zaha produced a fine solo finish to turn and fire home from the edge of the box and, 91 seconds later, set up Christian Benteke to put Palace ahead with a delicate dinked effort.
Chelsea piled on the pressure and had 24 shots at goal, their second-highest total in 29 league games this season.
But they could find no way past Eagles keeper Wayne Hennessey, who made 11 saves in total to ensure his side won a fourth successive game.
The international break cannot have helped Chelsea's rhythm but that did not seem a problem when Hazard, back from a calf injury, and Fabregas combined early on.
Putting Pedro in as right wing-back in place of the absent Victor Moses did not seem to cause the leaders too many issues either, as many of their best attacks came down that flank.
A drop in energy levels might have played a part in places, however. N'Golo Kante, who played 90 minutes for France against Spain in midweek, was noticeably below par in the centre of midfield.
More than 10 minutes of stoppage time was played before the game ended, but Chelsea did not appear any more likely to score and were reduced to hopeful balls into the box as Hazard's influence faded.
Antonio Conte's side remain in a strong position at the top of the table but, if tiredness was an issue against the Eagles, it could affect them again in the next few days.
Chelsea's lack of European involvement means they are not used to playing in midweek, and only 13 different players have started 22 league games for them since 1 October.
With two games in the next seven days, at home to Manchester City and away at Bournemouth, Conte may have to test the strength in depth of his squad for the first time.
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