Have Chelsea turned a corner, or is it another false start?

LONDON — Chelsea made the short trip to Selhurst Park with the task of finding the consistency he has been lacking all season and injury-time goals from Conor Gallagher and Enzo Fernandez Finally he responded to the call of coach Mauricio Pochettino. The 3-1 victory over crystal Palace Monday rewarded a performance in which Chelsea dominated possession, but struggled to convert it into clear-cut opportunities until those final two hammer blows.

It was former Palace loanee Gallagher who was the thorn in the Eagles’ side. After Jefferson LermaGallagher’s wonderful goal in the first half, Gallagher’s goal just 90 seconds into the second half tied things up, and he followed up with his winning goal in the 91st minute, leaving Fernandez’s well-taken third to round things off. . Those two late knockout blows would have hurt the home fans as much as they delighted the away crowd.

With Chelsea stuck in mid-table and still looking to find a winning formula from their £1bn outlay under owner Todd Boehly, and with Crystal Palace teetering close to the relegation zone and coach Roy Hodgson under pressure, this was always going to be a nervous situation. tense match. Fans demanded eye-catching performances and both teams played with an intensity and urgency that underlined their importance. But it was Chelsea and Gallagher who came out on top as Pochettino’s second-half substitutions helped produce a final product after a first half in which they dominated possession but had no advantage.

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Chelsea’s season to date has vacillated between false starts and frustrating bumps in the road. At times they have threatened to improve their form, only to stumble. His last three games clearly summed up his erratic form: after conceding eight goals in his losses to Liverpool and wolves in the first divisionthey then achieved a brilliant 3-1 victory in Aston Villa in the FA Cup last Wednesday.

Gallagher summed up the state of the team well after Monday’s game: “There have been some games where we’ve been brilliant and some where we’ve been terrible, so it was about getting that consistency.” The win was a bit of both in each half, although it gives Chelsea a chance to finally turn the corner if they can keep up the pace.

The Blues’ erratic form highlights a lack of direction from the owners and the young, untidy squad that Pochettino is juggling – somewhere in the middle of his 28 signings since Boehly took over the club is a young team capable of making its way through the standings. table. Now, with back-to-back wins, the question is whether this latest run of form will also fade.

“That’s the consistency we have to change,” Pochettino said after beating Palace. “We need to start the game in a different way, we need to try to be consistent to always play and perform like we did against Aston Villa. It’s not easy, but that’s the challenge.”

The pressure was no less for the locals. Palace had won their last two league games at home, but those were their only wins in their last 14 matches. They also came to this without star players Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise and Marc Guehi, who had been injured in the last fortnight. These are the three most influential players absent from him, in addition to the long-term absentees. Cheikhou Kouyate.

Hodgson said earlier this week that he is enduring the “most difficult period of [his] career” – quite a statement given that he has been managing since 1976. And the pre-match noise from those in the boardroom and on the field was the need for the fans to support them despite their recent discontent over the results, team selection Fans made their thoughts clear with a banner at the end of Holmesdale Road that read: “Weak club culture and management.”

Despite their misgivings, the Palace fans made themselves heard from the start and the smoke from the red flares enveloped Dean HendersonThe goal of the first half. It helped create the claustrophobic feel of this match in which the resolve along with the patience of those in the stands were tested.

Chelsea started from the beginning trying to pick up where they left off in the game against Villa, making only one injury-forced change with Thiago Silva starting in place of injured Benoit Badiashile. But in the first half Chelsea tried the same thing repeatedly without success: they controlled the ball in the middle of the field, diverted it outwards, trusted the rhythm and invention of the full-backs. Bad Taste and Ben Chilwell to get the ball into the area and saw Palace clear the ball.

At the other end, Palace were much more inventive with their front three, including new signing. Matheus France profit from the midfielder industry Adam Wharton — in his first Premier League start since his big-money January transfer — Will Hughes and Jefferson Lerma to keep Chelsea backing down. After Mateta had a great chance saved by Dorde Petrovic, his high pressing finally paid off, with Lerma unleashing a brilliant 30-yard shot after Noni Madueke and Moisés Caicedo They were caught in possession.

Chelsea went into the break 1-0 down with an expected goals, or xG, of just 0.06, the lowest in a first half since Liverpool humiliated them in January, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s 420 passes completed without a shot on goal in the first half were the most in the Premier League since 2003.

But after the break, it was Chelsea who emerged brighter from the lethargy. With Christopher Nkunku After replacing the frustrated Madueke at half-time, the Blues changed their formation and played with two up front, with Gallagher and Cole Palmer — ineffective as a false number 9 in the first half — right behind. He clicked immediately with a Gusto cross that found Gallagher in the middle of the box and he finished well to tie the game.

From there, Chelsea maintained their dominance over the match. Raheem SterlingThe introduction of (despite a wasted finish from a brilliant pass) helped bring more intensity, leading to Gallagher breaking Palace’s resolve with a late goal. Fernández’s goal in injury time while playing Daniel Muñoz It only served to rub salt in the wounds.

“The player gave us more structure in his half of the field to try to create more opportunities,” Gallagher said. “He was very good of the coach and helped us play better in the second half.”

So it’s Chelsea’s second half that away fans will take with them. Despite all the possession in the first 45 minutes, it was the second half group that delivered. Pochettino’s tactical change worked, Enzo Fernandez’s inventiveness had room to shine and Palmer looked much happier playing a little further back between the two forwards. Gusto and Chilwell crashed to the ground as Caicedo got into the game playing a little deeper.

But once again, Gallagher (the man who was constantly linked with moves away from the club) is the one who stood up when necessary and turned the growing sense of inevitability about this match into reality. It was a powerful cocktail and something that Pochettino’s group can take advantage of for their next task, a trip to city ​​of manchester on Saturday.

“I think he is a player with a great commitment to the team, who always tries to compensate for every situation,” Pochettino said of Gallagher. “It’s priceless to have a player like him. I’m very happy for him because it’s a victory we needed.”

The start of the second half was delayed because referee Michael Oliver had technical problems with his microphone and, to fill the gap while the players kicked the ball to keep warm, those in charge of the stadium playlist opted for “Three Little” by Bob Marley. Birds.” Supporters from both sides sang it loudly under the cold south London sky. But of the two groups of fans, it will be the Chelsea supporters who will begin to believe that eventually all might be well.

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