Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 2: It might not be a fully-blown crisis at Stamford Bridge, but there are clearly problems for Jose Mourinho to address after Chelsea’s worst start in over a decade, and Crystal Palace skipper Damien Delaney agrees with the Portuguese that it is all about one thing — hunger.
Palace fully deserved their victory, which arrived courtesy of goals from Bakary Sako and Joel Ward either side of Radamel Falcao’s first goal for Chelsea.
Palace’s victory should have come as no surprise, given they have won 10 of their 12 away games since Alan Pardew took over in January.
Chelsea have gone in the opposite direction. This time last year, they started the season with a bang, winning their first four games comfortably, not losing until December and strolling to the Premier League title with only three defeats all season.
Now they have lost two out of four, are in the bottom half of the table, and already eight points behind leaders Manchester City.
Mourinho is horrified to think his expensively assembled bunch of multimillionaires may have taken their foot off the gas after wining the league, just as City did following their title wins in 2012 and 2014.
Cork-born Delaney hit the nail on the head when he said there was more motivation from Palace’s players, who cost a fraction of the Chelsea squad in terms of transfer fees and wages. While Chelsea’s starting 11 cost nearly €300m in total, Palace’s team cost €55m, with Delaney and Sako free signings and man of the match Jason Puncheon costing a bargain €2m.
Like Delaney, Puncheon has spent most of his career down the divisions and even in non-league, yet he put World Cup winner Cesc Fabregas to shame with his work-rate and vision in midfield.
“A lot of the lads here have not played regularly in the Premier League, just a season here or there, gone up or down a division, so we’ve got a point to prove, which is a good way to be,” said Delaney.
Pardew singled his captain out for the way he kept Diego Costa quiet in what was a real rough-and-tumble duel between the pair. “Yes, it’s been a while since I had that, a good old-fashioned League Two battle,” Delaney laughed.
“I spent a lot of my career in the lower leagues, raised on battling with big, bruising centre forwards — obviously Costa’s a good player too — so I enjoyed that today.”
Mourinho talked about three or four players being well below their best, and clearly Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, and Nemanja Matic were shadows of the players who helped Chelsea win the title last season.
It was only when Mourinho sent on Falcao and youngsters Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Kenedy that Chelsea came alive, but it was too little, too late. He praised Kurt Zouma, who filled in for suspended captain John Terry, and suggested the young guns may replace established stars if he sees complacency setting in.
“I have beautiful young eggs in Kenedy, Ruben, Zouma, and they did well. I am not saying they are ready to play every game for 90 minutes, but these young guys have very good talent.”
Mourinho accepted Hazard, last season’s Footballer of the Year, needs to raise his game. “If you are the best in the league, it should be your responsibility to have a similar season to the previous one. It is difficult to have a consistent team performance when some of the players are not performing. When you have six or seven performing and three or four who are not an acceptable level, it is hard for a team to be consistent.
“I don’t have an answer for everything. If you ask me will I accept this, sit in a nice chair and wait calmly for the performance level to be back, the answer is no. I have to work, react, analyse, and if I feel the players are not in conditions to react and give more, I have to make changes. I have never had a problem with that.”
The Eagles, meanwhile, are flying high in the top three. Delaney said: “We’ve already got nine points and it took us until November to get that total in the past couple of seasons. To get it from four games is exceptional and we have to keep that momentum.”
The defender reiterated his retirement from the Ireland set-up. “I’ve finished with that to be honest. I’m too old to be travelling back and forth. I’m looking forward to a rest this week because it’s important for me.”
Courtois 7; Ivanovic 4, Cahill 5, Zouma 6, Azpilicueta 5 (Kenedy, 68 6); Fabregas 4, Matic 5 (Loftus-Cheek, 73); Pedro 7, Willian 5 (Falcao, 66 7), Hazard 4; Costa 6.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1):
McCarthy 7; Ward 6, Dann 7, Delaney 8, Souare 6; Zaha 5 (Bolasie, 55 7), Cabaye 8 (Ledley, 82, Puncheon 9, McArthur 6; Sako 7 (Lee, 83; Wickham 6.
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