N’Golo Kante scored his third goal of the season to earn Chelsea a deserved 1-0 win at Crystal Palace that moves the Blues five points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal.
David Luiz provided a rare assist from open play to allow Kante an opportunity that he pounced upon before scoring a goal that trebles his previous best tally in a Premier League season.
Palace went into the game seeking to extend a three-match unbeaten streak that included a famous win over Manchester City before Christmas, but they struggled to prise the ball away from a Chelsea side determined to avoid a repeat of their Selhurst Park defeat last season.
The result left Roy Hodgson’s men just five points clear of the relegation zone, while fourth-placed Chelsea pulled away from Arsenal, who lost heavily at Liverpool on Saturday.
As cool as you like! #CRYCHE pic.twitter.com/ImqI3iBN3I
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 30, 2018
Antonio Rudiger headed tamely into the arms of Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita before Kante sent a more forceful shot wide as Chelsea enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges.
Olivier Giroud had the ball in the net after 27 minutes, lashing home from a tight angle only to see an offside flag raised against him.
The best attempt of the first half came from Willian, whose wickedly curling free-kick from 25 yards was saved by Guaita at full stretch just moments before the goalkeeper denied the Brazilian again when he tried a low drive.
The deadlock was broken after 51 minutes when David Luiz’s exquisite chipped ball into the box was controlled instinctively on the chest by the on-rushing Kante, who then applied a low, left-footed finish that sneaked past Guaita despite the keeper getting a hand to it.
Guaita made another save from Willian, denying the winger when Hazard played him in for a shot, before another unfortunate moment for Giroud, who twisted his ankle in the process of scoring another goal that was ruled out by the assistant referee’s flag.
The Frenchman limped off and was replaced by Alvaro Morata as Chelsea saw out the closing stages of a comfortable victory without any real threat of a Palace comeback.
What does it mean? Leicester was just a blip
Chelsea’s 1-0 home defeat to Leicester City left Blues fans concerned about inconsistency under Maurizio Sarri, but this was a consummate away performance from a side with a strong gameplan and plenty of confidence.
Kante has it all
Not content with being the driving force in the engine room of Chelsea’s midfield, Kante is making a habit of spotting gaps in opposition defences and proved he is adapting to his more advanced role this season with a worthy match-winning goal.
Tough afternoon for unlucky Giroud
After twice putting the ball in the net and twice having very close offside decisions go against him, Giroud hobbled off with a painful looking ankle injury.
Key Opta stats
– Chelsea picked up their first win in an away league London derby since August 2017 (2-1 vs Spurs), ending a run of five without victory (L3 D2).
– Crystal Palace failed to record a single shot on target in a Premier League home game for the first time since March 2017 vs Watford.
– Chelsea have won three consecutive Premier League away games for the first time under Maurizio Sarri, last doing so in April under Antonio Conte.
– Only Tottenham (9) and Liverpool (8) have won more away Premier League games this season than Chelsea (7).
3 – N’Golo Kante has scored three goals in 20 Premier League games this season – his best goal return in a single season in the top five European leagues. Reinvented. #CRYCHE pic.twitter.com/tXYgzCivR6
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 30, 2018
The Blues will hope to make amends for their home defeat to Leicester when they entertain Southampton on Wednesday, while Palace seek to resume their mid-December form at Wolves.