N’Golo Kante scored the lone goal as Chelsea scrapped to a victory at Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Sunday to remain five points clear of Arsenal and occupy the final Champions League place at the end of 2018.
Chelsea dominated ball possession and put up a good number of attacks but were unable to get through Palace’s sturdy defence and Marcos Alonso’s booking was a showcase of that frustration – of not being able to penetrate enough into the opposition box.
They are on fourth with 43 points after 20 games, Palace from the same number of matches are on 19 points at the 14th place.
Palace played on the counter, hoping to catch the visitors on the break and the first real glimpse of their tactic came in the 11th minute when Wilfred Zaha went down after an Antonio Rudiger challenge. But the home team’s appeals for a penalty went to deaf ears.
Almost immediately Chelsea hit them but Willian’s header from a Rudiger cross was not powerful enough to test Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.
Olivier Giroud then found the net but was flagged offside before Hazard nearly found him through and Palace were forced to clear their lines.
Brazilian Willian, who had struck the post from a 34th-minute free-kick and had fired wide from the resulting corner, did well to keep Guaita busy with a couple of more shots as the goalless half drew to a close.
Back from the break, Chelsea needed just six minutes to finally breach the Palace defence with the moment of creativity coming from centre back David Luiz. Allowed enough time to make his pass, the defender found Kante with a measured chip, which the Frenchman controlled on his chest before volleying the ball home.
Confident from their recent victory over City, Palace immediately set on for the equaliser and almost conceded a second when Hazard’s shot off a Giroud deflection sailed towards the net and James McArthur had to hurry and clear.