Chelsea increased the gap between themselves and fifth-placed Arsenal to five points as N’Golo Kante’s second-half strike earned them victory at Crystal Palace.
Kante scored the only goal of the game in the 51st minute when he broke forward from midfield to convert David Luiz’s throughball.
There were few clear-cut chances as the Blues dominated possession and Palace sat back hoping to catch the opposition on the counter-attack – a tactic which failed to work as Roy Hodgson’s Eagles took 85 minutes to register their first effort. That is now two successive games without a goal.
Chelsea’s Willian came close to scoring with a free-kick that struck the post, and Ross Barkley also hit the woodwork with a hooked effort.
Fourth-placed Blues now have 43 points, one behind City and two behind Spurs. Palace remain in 14th with 19 points.
Reassigned Kante sees off Eagles
The Kante of 2018-19 is made up of different spec to previous models. Gone is the role of anchor man in midfield – the ball-winner who would allow other midfielders to make forays into the opposition’s final third.
The remodelled version has been given permission to burst forward from the right of a midfield trio. During a largely nondescript opening 45 minutes, he made two runs into the Palace box – the first resulting in a strike that missed Vicente Guaita’s far post by two feet.
Sarri’s perseverance with the tactic paid off six minutes after the break when Kante grabbed his third goal of the season after again breaking from midfield.
This time it was defender Luiz the provider, with a threaded pass that found the Frenchman whose shot had enough power to beat the hand of the former Valencia keeper.
Willian also went close for the Blues with a free-kick that came off the Palace post, while fellow midfielder Barkley hooked a shot from close range that grazed the woodwork.
It was a competent if unremarkable display from Sarri’s side, but they did not have to break sweat against a lifeless Palace attack.
‘We had to keep it tight and hope to nick an undeserved point’
This was an utterly forgettable display by Palace.
They defended admirably but appeared to show little desire to put pressure on the opposition backline.
Their first effort on goal came in the 85th minute when Wilfried Zaha fired wide and high, before substitute Connor Wickham’s strike from six yards resulted in a similar outcome.
Hodgson grimaced from the sidelines, as must have the Palace supporters inside Selhurst Park.
The former England manager explained that his side stuck to their defensive tactics after Chelsea scored because of the risk of “conceding another three or four”.
“I thought we worked as hard as we could have,” he said. “We kept them in front of us and they had the ball, but they were creating goal chances.
“When they scored we had two options; either fly at it and risk conceding another three or four, or keep it tight and try and win an undeserved point in the last 15 minutes.”
Man of the match – N’Golo Kante (Chelsea).
‘Kante is improving and now we must work on Barkley’ – reaction
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri, speaking to BBC’s Match of the Day: “It was a difficult match. I am happy with the team because we dominated for 85 minutes, although we didn’t kill the match, so we had to fight again for the last five minutes.”
On Kante’s goal: “He is improving with the right timing and good movement and now I think that we have to work on Ross Barkley. We now need continuity because in the last five matches we played very well in three, and badly in two, so now is the moment to have continuity.
“We have to play 19 matches, so other team’s results are not important but it is crucial to have continuity. In two days we have had four injuries, with Cesc Fabregas, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Danny Drinkwater, and then today Olivier Giroud. We will have to see how long he is out for.”
Another good away day with Sarri – the stats
- Chelsea picked up their first win in an away league London derby since August 2017 (2-1 v Spurs), ending a run of five without victory (L3, D2).
- Palace failed to record a single shot on target in a Premier League home game for the first time since March 2017 v Watford.
- Chelsea have won three consecutive Premier League away games for the first time under Sarri, last doing so in April under Antonio Conte.
- Only Tottenham (nine) and Liverpool (eight) have won more away Premier League games this season than Chelsea (seven).
- Kante scored his third league goal of the season – his best-ever return in a single campaign in the top five European leagues.
- Eden Hazard created more goalscoring chances than any other player in this match (three) and as a result surpassed 100 chances created in the Premier League in 2018 (101); which is 23 more than any other player in the competition this calendar year.
Chelsea are at home to Southampton and Palace are at Wolves – both matches are on Wednesday and kick off at 19:45 GMT.