By Paul Lagan at Selhurst Park
Crystal Palace 0 v Chelsea 1
Chelsea are the best club side in the world, but humble Crystal Palace made them look decidedly ordinary at Selhurst Park this afternoon.
However the Blues won the match with the only goal. an excellent strike by Hakim Ziyech with a minute left on the clock.
He had had a goal rule out after Romelu Lukaku strayed offside, but the result was hard on the South Londoners, who dominated the second half, without seriously looking to dent the Chelsea defence.
Those two extra points gives Chelsea an eight-point advantage over fifth place West Ham.
Securing Champions League qualification is vital for Blues, who stay third, while staying in the league is equally vital for the Eagles.
Michael Olise had a wonderful chance to open the score on eight minutes when the Eagles created a fine counter-attack that saw the ball thumped up to Wilfried Zaha. The winger inched to the edge of the Chelsea penalty area on the left. He cut the ball to in-running Olise, who took a touch, and drove a low left-footer inches wide of Mendy’s right post
Christian Pulisic failed with a first time shot from a deep Ziyech byline cross two minutes later. The USA star could only scuff the ball wide of goal.
Toni Rudiger then tried a venomous right-footer from 30 yards out. The ball took a slight deflection which made Vincent’s Guaita’s finger-tip save more impressive.
Guaita produced a terrific save to thwart N’Golo Kante who was put clear by Malang Sarr on 21 minutes.
The France midfielder’s shot was straight at the goalkeeper however which helped.
A speculative cross by Sarr on 37 minutes following good approach play by the Blues, almost caught Guaita out. But the left back’s out-swinging effort cleared the stopper’s left post.
Palace piled on the pressure late on with a series of corner. Chelsea dealt with them effectively.
Zaha had the last chance of the half. Again, a quick break saw the Ivory Coast wide man race into the Chelsea area. He tried to slide the ball across Mendy and into the far post. Luckily for the visitors, Zara’s effort was just wide.
Palace boss Patrick Vieira was forced into a half-time substitution with Guaita failing to return to the pitch – Jack Butland replaced him.
Palace restarted the match like a bullet from a gun – pressurising the Chelsea player closest to the ball.
It resulted in a couple of misplaced passes from the west Londoners which the south Londoners failed to capitalise on.
Sarr got the first yellow card of the game – hacking down Cheikhou Kouyate who was preparing another counter-attack.
He was soon followed by Olise on 68 minutes.
Chelsea head coach decided changes needed to be made, and on came Mateo Kovacic, Marcos Alonso, and Ruben Loftus Cheek, off came Jorginho, Kante and Sarr on 75 minutes.
Within seconds Chelsea put the ball in the back of the net after Lukaku, who looked offside forced a save from Butland. The ball fell invitingly to Ziyech who slotted home into the empty net.
VAR rightly decided to chalk off the goal.
But with a minute left on the clock, Alonso put in a deep cross from the left to the far post and Ziyech, produced a sensationally skilful cushioned left-footer past Butland to give the Blues an undeserved lead.
Zaha thrashed a low left footer across goal, and past Mendy as the home side sought an equaliser. But it never really looked like it was going to happen.
Teams: Crystal Palace, Guaita, Clyne, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell, McArthur, Kouyate, Schlupp, Zaha, J Ayew, Olise
Subs: Butland, Milivojevic, Eze, Hughes, Mateo, Benteke, Edouard, Kelly, Adaramola
Chelsea, Mendy, Christensen, Silva, Rudiger, Sarr, Jorginho, Kante, Ziyech, Havertz, Lukaku, Pulisic
Subs, Kepa, Alonso, Kovacic, Werner, Loftus-Cheek, Chalobah, Saul, Kenedy, Vale
Referee: David Coote