Chelsea 2 Crystal Palace 1
Fernando Torres was on target as Chelsea moved within two points of Barclays Premier League leaders Arsenal with a 2-1 defeat of Crystal Palace.
Jose Mourinho believes it is not possible to compare the talents of any of his strikers with the individual brilliance of Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez of Liverpool and the Portuguese is frustrated at their goal return.
But Torres scored the opener in a win which means Chelsea could go top of the Premier League at Christmas with victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on December 23.
Torres netted his second Premier League goal of the season – the fifth by a Chelsea striker and the Spain man’s first since his winner in the October defeat of Manchester City – after 16 minutes.
While Chelsea’s strikers are struggling for goals, Marouane Chamakh’s hot streak continued as he scored for a third straight game to equalise and show some of the failings present in Mourinho’s defence.
Palace, who had won their previous two games, had parity for just six minutes as Ramires struck from the edge of the area, after being set-up by the impressive Eden Hazard, to restore the hosts’ advantage.
Those expecting Chelsea to romp away with the points and fire a warning to both Arsenal and Manchester City were mistaken and the hosts were indebted to Petr Cech when the goalkeeper saved from substitute Stuart O’Keefe.
Despite the shaking foundations, still Stamford Bridge remains a fortress, as Chelsea extended their unbeaten home run in the league to 16 games and Mourinho’s home league record to 68 undefeated.
Chelsea won at Arsenal in the Capital One Cup earlier this season and now have to put the Gunners clash to one side as first they play at Sunderland in Tuesday’s quarter-final.
Torres and Ramires were included as two of five changes following the unconvincing midweek defeat of Steaua Bucharest.
Michael Essien, Juan Mata and Cesar Azpilicueta, preferred to Ashley Cole, all started against a Palace side showing one enforced change from the 2-0 defeat of Cardiff, with Adrian Mariappa replacing Dean Moxey at right-back.
Palace harassed and harangued Chelsea early on, so much so that the Blues could not string a meaningful period of possession together.
When they did the warning was there for the Eagles, as Julian Speroni saved Ramires’ volley.
Moments later, the goalkeeper turned a stinging shot from another Brazilian on to the post, but Willian’s effort rebounded for Torres to pounce and tuck in.
Branislav Ivanovic and Essien shot off target as Chelsea continued to pile the pressure on Palace, who were forced into an early change when Kagisho Dikgacoi was replaced by O’Keefe.
Cameron Jerome forced Cech into a save as the Chelsea defence backed off before the visitors equalised through former Arsenal striker Chamakh.
David Luiz rushed out from defence towards Jason Puncheon, who found Joel Ward on the left.
Chamakh found space as marker John Terry lost his man and the Moroccan clipped the ball in beyond Cech.
Palace’s joy did not last for long as Willian fed Hazard, who cut in dangerously before teeing up Ramires on the edge of the area.
The midfielder took one touch before curling a sumptuous right-footed effort into corner.
Hazard tried to create another when he evaded Mariappa, ran along the byline and set up Willian, but his deflected shot was easily saved, causing Mourinho to kick a bag in his technical area in frustration.
If anyone expected Chelsea to cruise in the second half, Palace had other ideas.
Puncheon had a shot saved on the counter attack after escaping the attentions of Azpilicueta before his dangerous cross from a free-kick saw Damien Delaney head straight at Cech.
Delaney made a well-timed tackle to deny Ivanovic in the area before Mourinho turned to Oscar, who replaced Mata.
The Brazilian could not spark Chelsea into action and instead the Blues had to rely on Cech to stay in front after fine work by Jerome found O’Keefe, whose first shot was excellently saved and his second blocked by Ivanovic before the ball was scrambled clear.
Delaney headed wide from a corner moments later after escaping the attentions of Chelsea’s defence, who appeared vulnerable.
Ramires fluffed a golden opportunity for a third.
Oscar won the ball from two Palace defenders, but Ramires could not decide whether to shoot or pass to three of his waiting team-mates.
Speroni made three saves in quick succession to deny substitutes Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba, as well as Ramires, but in the end the failure to find a third did not prove costly as Chelsea triumphed.