Results disprove Chelsea ’frailties’

Chelsea 2 Crystal Palace 1

Results disprove Chelsea ’frailties’

They lack cohesion.

They do not have a striker they can rely on.

They have kept just one clean sheet in the Premier League since September.

Oh – and they will be top of the Premier League at Christmas if they beat Arsenal a week today, having already topped their Champions League Group.

Those disparate facts sum up the innate contradictions within this Chelsea side. In short, everything you see is disproved by the results.

Watching them can be painful at times, particularly for the fans who sit around the press box at Stamford Bridge and make their feelings very well known to Jose Mourinho.

The Portuguese declared that his side are a work in progress, but that rate of momentum appears to be slow, with no discernible style or concrete plan in place.

But, as is their way, they won again, holding off a brave challenge from a Crystal Palace side that have improved immeasurably under Tony Pulis.

Still, though, the questions are about what Chelsea can do to improve their lot. The most obvious answer is to win at the Emirates, a ground where they have lost just once in their last seven visits.

But that will not solve the issues over the style of play or the continued absence of Ashley Cole from the side or Mourinho’s lack of trust in Juan Mata, who was hauled off after an hour on Saturday.

Yet the glass should be seen as half-full rather than half-empty. If and when Chelsea do click into gear they may be unstoppable, despite what Manchester City or Arsenal have to say about it.

“We topped our Group in the Champions League, are playing to qualify for the semi-finals of the League Cup and are two points off the top of the Premier League. We are in a good position,” said goalkeeper Petr Cech.

“There is room for improvement, we know that, but it is very encouraging to be in such a good position in the period where you know you have room for improvement.

“Arsenal is always a big game anyway, it’s a London derby. Regarding the situation in the table we can go first if we win, so it’s a massive game for both teams because if Arsenal want to stay top and not lose their momentum they need to win. We know winning the game will twist everything in the table.

“It is our target to be top of the league. To win against Palace was important as Arsenal dropped points against Manchester City. We wanted to close the gap to Arsenal and stay ahead of Manchester City ahead of the head-to-head game (with Arsenal). Palace made it really hard but we got three points and are delighted with that.”

So they should be. Victory seemed likely when Fernando Torres scored his first Premier League goal since October 27 after Willian’s low shot came back off the post, but this Chelsea side are not as ruthless as they were during Mourinho’s first spell in charge.

Palace fought back and were rewarded when the excellent Joel Ward’s cross was turned home by Marouane Chamakh, scoring for the third successive game.

Parity did not last long, though, as Ramires fired a fine shot into the top right hand corner of Julian Speroni’s net, but this was a strange performance from Chelsea. They had chances to make the game safe, most notably when Speroni made a double save to deny Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba, but Damien Delaney spurned three headers for Palace and Stuart O’Keefe’s shot was turned off the line by John Terry.

Perhaps the most obvious flaw was again in the performance of Torres, who offered little. The decision to send Romelu Lukaku on loan to Everton appears more curious with each passing game, and the Belgian would surely have had a greater impact here.

As it was there were also worries at the other end as David Luiz continued to be a shaky presence, rushing out in a failed attempt to intercept and leaving a gaping hole behind him that the visitors exploited for their equaliser.

For their part, Palace will be encouraged. They are a more determined, resolute outfit now that Pulis has succeeded Ian Holloway, and there are reasons for genuine optimism that they can avoid the drop.

“We have a great bunch of guys, a good manager and we are starting to really click and form an identity in the way we play,” said Ward.

“We are hard to break down and we can hurt teams. We keep moving forward, keep building and can turn the season around.

“We know Marouane is quality, he hasn’t been at the clubs he has been at (Arsenal and Bordeaux) for no reason. He is getting a run of games, building his confidence and is something special for us.”

At present it is unclear who Chelsea’s Special One is. But if they win at Arsenal they go top. And that’s the only fact that matters.

CHELSEA: Cech 7, Ivanovic 7, Luiz 5, Terry 7, Azpilicueta 6, Mata 6 (Oscar, 62; 6), Ramires 8, Essien 6, Willian 7 (Schurrle, 82; 6), Hazard 6, Torres 5 (Ba, 84; 6).

CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni 7, Mariappa 7, Gabbidon 7, Delaney 7, Ward 8, Bannan 6 (Bolasie, 51; 7), Jedinak 7, Dikgacoi 6 (O’Keefe, 26; 8), Puncheon 6, Chamakh 7 (Gayle, 88; 6), Jerome 7.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg.

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