Eager Crystal Palace expose Chelsea's frail defence
Ivanovic blunders as brittle Blues lose
(Radamel Falcao 79)
CRYSTAL PALACE 2
(Bakary Sako 65, Joel Ward 81)
There's no defence for Chelsea. The Blues' campaign is handicapped by a brittle backbone.
Jose Mourinho's men are not clueless, but spineless. A fissure of uncertainty runs through their back four, threatening to crack into an unbridgeable chasm at any moment.
The fault line is at right back. Branislav Ivanovic is quickly becoming the elephant on the pitch.
Always eager to fly forward, the Serb retreated with all the grace of a sweet-toothed kid wading through treacle.
He made too many mistakes. He made Chelsea nervous. He encouraged Crystal Palace to pour forward along their left flank, towards their opponents' Achilles heel, towards a momentous 2-1 victory, towards history.
Mourinho was bowled out as he made a century in his 100th home game for Chelsea. The Blues trail Manchester City by eight points. The Premier League trophy already looks a distant mirage.
Their defence will be their undoing.
Much has been made of John Terry's unexpected regression and the futile chase for John Stones, but Kurt Zouma is proving an able deputy.
Still only 20, the Frenchman admirably filled in for the absent skipper alongside Gary Cahill. The real issue was Ivanovic.
Since Alan Pardew's appointment in January, Palace had won six and lost two out of eight on the road before visiting Stamford Bridge. Their manager relishes the chance to target tactical weak spots.
So Palace prodded Chelsea's right back at every opportunity. Ivanovic resembled a caged, wounded animal being poked with sticks through the bars.
First, Bakary Sako slipped behind Ivanovic to get away an early shot. Then Yohan Cabaye spurned the best chance of the first half, side-footing an effort straight at Thibaut Courtois.
Wilfried Zaha had played in the Frenchman after shaking off Nemanja Matic on the left. Ivanovic was out of the picture, plodding back from another postcode.
Chelsea were otherwise comfortable in possession, but tedious in attack.
Scott Dann and Damien Delaney took turns to pass Diego Costa from pocket to pocket, underlining Chelsea's frustrating 4-2-3-1 formation.
The line-up labours against quick opponents.
Alongside Matic, Cesc Fabregas was again pushed back too deeply, cutting that umbilical cord between the Spaniard and his compatriot Costa.
Both men were isolated, which sends Fabregas into his shell and coaxes out Costa's less attractive side - the one with cheap dives, petty fouls and silly simulation.
But Chelsea's overriding priority is pace, or a lack of it in defensive areas.
When Sako turned Ivanovic again in the 55th minute, dispatching a fine snap-shot that drew an equally smart save from Courtois, Pardew went in for the kill.
Yannick Bolasie was thrown on with the most transparent of objectives. There was an urgent need for speed. It was a scarce commodity in Chelsea's back four.
The move proved a masterstroke. Palace went ahead less than 10 minutes later. The build-up began on the left and ended a miserable night for Ivanovic.
The Serb threw his hands behind his back as Papa Souare approached. He might as well have clasped them together in prayer.
Bolasie galloped into the box to receive Souare's pass and slide the ball across to Sako, who smashed home from close range.
From that moment on, Bolasie and Souare bullied Ivanovic with less subtlety than playground terriers stealing school dinner money behind the bike sheds.
Had it been a been a boxing match, the referee would have waved gloved hands before a dazed Ivanovic and guided him back to his stool.
His blushes might have been spared when substitute Radamel Falcao came on to head home Pedro Rodriguez's outstanding cross in the 79th minute.
The goal confirmed the value of using two strikers more often. Pedro had been a peripheral figure before Falcao's introduction.
But Palace were not to be denied.
Joel Ward, a scorer against Arsenal, popped up again in the 81st minute to restore Palace's lead, after quick build-up from Bolasie and Sako again.
Chelsea's right side was so wrong on the night.
The Blues bludgeoned their opponents in the dying seconds, but the damage had been done. Palace had thoroughly earned their first victory at the Bridge since 1982.
The Eagles made history, but Chelsea are making a real mess of their title defence.
In another league, I would say game over. In the Premier League, I don’t say that. We have to do better. Me and the players have to do better.
- Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
CHELSEA: Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Kurt Zouma, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta (Kenedy 68), Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic (Ruben Loftus- Cheek 73), Pedro Rodriguez, Willian (Radamel Falcao 66), Eden Hazard, Diego Costa
CRYSTAL PALACE: Alex McCarthy, Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Pape Souare, James McArthur, Yohan Cabaye (Joe Ledley 82), Jason Puncheon, Bakary Sako (Lee Chung Yong 84), Wilfried Zaha (Yannick Bolasie 55), Connor Wickham
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