Sports Mole's text coverage of Chelsea's 2-1 win over a resurgent Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.
By Liam Power, Reporter Filed: Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 14:00 UK
Last Updated: Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 10:03 UK
Chelsea went into tonight's Premier League clash with Crystal Palace looking for three points to reignite their title charge.
Palace travelled to Stamford Bridge on the back of successive victories under Tony Pulis but fell behind early on, thanks to the predatory instincts of Fernando Torres.
The visitors levelled through Marouane Chamakh but soon fell behind once again, with a piledriver from Ramires proving the difference after a tight second half.
Look back at a crucial win for Jose Mourinho's men with Sports Mole's minute-by-minute commentary below.
2.03pmAfternoon Premier League fans. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for live coverage of an intriguing London derby from Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea's title credentials are tested against a resurgent Crystal Palace.
2.06pmDropped points are simply unthinkable for the Blues this afternoon, after a late collapse at Stoke City last weekend left them five points off the top of the table. Jose Mourinho may have been fairly dismissive of their title chances after that defeat, but a big win today but put them right back in the mix as a topsy-turvy Premier League season rolls on.
2.09pmChelsea fans will hope that Palace at home represents a chance for one their underwhelming strike trio to play their way into form this afternoon, ahead of a hectic Christmas schedule which includes a trip to Arsenal. Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto'o have just four Premier League goals between them this season, a statistic which surely must improve very quickly.
2.12pmPalace meanwhile arrive at the Bridge a completely different side to the one stranded at the foot of the table a month ago. Tony Pulis has brought organisation, spirit and above all Premier League points to Selhurst Park, with the Eagles winning three of their last four matches.
2.15pmPerhaps the most startling improvement for Palace is the new-found form of their front two, with Marouane Chamakh and Cameron Jerome both excellent in last week's win over Cardiff. The challenge now is to sustain that improvement, with any kind of positive result today surely a massive boost to their survival hopes.
2.18pmDespite that upturn in Palace form Chelsea must still be considered heavy favourites this afternoon, particularly with the wealth of options at their disposal. Guessing Mourinho's starting XI this season has been a nightmare for Fantasy Football fans, expect that trend to continue today.
2.21pmBREAKING TEAM NEWS! We have just received the starting XIs from the Bridge and Mourinho has made five changes to the side which secured top spot in the Champions League on Wednesday, including the return of Fernando Torres. A full look at both teams will follow shortly.
2.29pmLet's run through an extensive list of Chelsea changes then, with Cesar Azpilicueta returning in place of Ashley Cole as expected at left-back, while Gary Cahill misses out with a thigh problem. Ramires and Michael Essien are also a new partnership in a holding midfield role, with Frank Lampard and Jon Obi Mikel dropping out.
2.32pmOscar also misses out to allow for Juan Mata to return as one of Chelsea's attacking midfield trio, while Andre Schurrle can count himself very unlucky to miss out at the expense of Willian, who stays in the starting XI after impressing in short spells against Bucharest on Wednesday.
2.35pmLast and by no means least is the return of Fernando Torres in attack, taking over the job of leading the line from Demba Ba despite his winner in midweek. Torres will definitely be under intense scrutiny this afternoon, as he bids to add to a solitary Premier League goal for the campaign.
2.38pmPalace have been forced into a single change through injury this afternoon, which sees Dean Moxey miss out for the first time this season with a hamstring injury. Yannick Bolasie is back from suspension but has to settle for a place on the bench, with Chamakh and Jerome continuing in a two-man attack.
2.41pmBENCH WATCH! Chelsea have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal in reserve today, with Lampard, Ba and Eto'o all waiting in the wings. A full look at the subs hoping to make an impact is coming up shortly.
2.48pmCole's continued omission from the Chelsea side may be no surprise, but it should be a cause for concern at the Bridge. With him and Lampard both missing from the starting lineup today the pressure is very much on John Terry to organise and lead from the back this afternoon.
2.52pmPREMIER LEAGUE UPDATE! As if Chelsea didn't have enough incentive to earn victory this afternoon we have news of a huge result in the lunchtime kickoff at the Etihad. Manchester City have thrashed league leaders Arsenal in a 6-3 thriller, which means the Blues would close the gap to two points with a win today!
2.55pmPREDICTION! With that City score filtering through to Stamford Bridge I fully expect the Blues to win this afternoon, although only after a hard-fought clash. Palace have kept successive clean sheets and look tougher under Pulis, but I'll back Hazard to net in a 2-0 home victory.
2.58pmWe have just received word of a late change among the Palace subs, with Kebe replaced by Campana due to illness. Kickoff is just moments away.
0 minPalace get this London derby underway shooting from left to right, in a changed all-black strip. They quickly aim for Chamakh in the corner, but Azpilicueta comes across to avert danger.
2 minAn early long throw for Palace is lofted into the area by Mariappa, but Luiz heads clear at the near post. The visitors then look to find Jerome as they pick up the pieces, but his poor first touch allows Chelsea to regain possession.
4 minHazard, Willian and Azpilicueta all combine in a neat passing exchange out wide, but Palace clear and very nearly set Jerome free on the counter. Jerome nicked the ball away from Luiz but the Chelsea captain recovered, sliding in to clear as the last defender.
7 minJerome looks to fancy his chances against Luiz but concedes a cheap free kick as he puts the Brazilian under pressure. Chelsea are just starting to settle in possession, as Ramires and Essien both switch play in quick succession.
9 minDikgacoi concedes a corner kick, the first of the afternoon, which Mata goes across to take. Palace clear the corner with relative ease but are penned back in their own half, as Jerome just fails to lead another attempted counter.
11 minChelsea have just been a little sloppy on the ball and end up gifting Palace a free kick as Mata clips Ward. The visitors hoist a high ball to the back post in search of Jedniak, but he is unable to make any contact.
14 minEssien is attempting to dictate play as he sprays the ball wide to Ivanovic, but his high cross completely misses the penalty area. Chelsea build again through Ramires, but once again Palace hold firm to chorus of red and blue army from the away end.
16 minChelsea's first strike at goal as Ramires strikes straight at Speroni, but the Blues wanted a penalty after Ivanovic broke forward to tussle with Gabbidon in the build-up. Nothing doing from the referee.
19 minChelsea break the deadlock thanks to a poacher's effort from Torres, who followed up to score from close range after Willian's curling drive from 20 yards had been tipped onto the post with a faint touch by Speroni. That's only the Spaniard's second Premier League goal of the season!
22 minPalace are struggling to leave their own half as Chelsea continue to dominate possession, but strong hold-up play from Jerome eventually buys the visitors a brief breather. This could be a long afternoon for the Eagles if the current pattern of play continues.
24 minCHANCE! Ivanovic steams forward again and nearly has a goal for his efforts, smashing just wide of the target with a low strike drilled just beyond the bottom corner. Palace failed to track his run and Mata laid on a lovely through ball, but Chelsea's lead still stands at one for now.
27 minSUBSTITUTION: Palace have been forced into an early change, with Dikgacoi limping off with what looks like a muscle problem. Stuart O'Keefe is on in his place with the job of providing protection in central midfield.
30 minJerome goes for goal from distance with a speculative effort caught comfortably by Cech, with Bannan furious on the far side after not receiving a pass in space. Cech is then forced off his line by a long ball over the top, heading out for a throw.
33 minPalace are level as Chamakh scores for the third successive game. The Moroccan lost John Terry to flick home a cutback from Ward, with the hosts caught cold by a quick, slick move from the visitors. Mourinho will be seething!
36 minBannan puts in a terrific sliding challenge on Hazard to stop the Belgian driving inside, but Chelsea soon regain possession. Mata and Hazard then attempt to exchange passes on the edge of the penalty area, but Palace manage to scramble clear.
38 minParity for Palace was all to brief as Ramires smashes Chelsea back ahead. The Brazilian took aim and managed to hammer a strong strike through a crowded penalty area, with Speroni rooted to the spot as the ball flew into the top corner.
41 minWillian spurns a chance to put Chelsea further ahead after strong work from Hazard, who pounced to rob Mariappa of possession near the corner flag. Hazard's cutback is eventually hit rather tamely by Willian through to Speroni, via the aid of a late deflection.
43 minYELLOW CARD! Chamakh is the first player cautioned just before the break after a late lunge on Essien, stopping the midfielder bursting into the opposition half rather cynically. Palace need to hold out now until the interval!
3.51pmThe Blues lead at the break and are well worth their narrow advantage, although Palace did briefly level thanks to a clinical finish from Chamakh. Plenty for Mourinho to ponder at the break, as defensive deficiencies once again threaten to undermine his side.
3.54pmPalace barely left their half and deserved to go behind when Torres produced a poacher's finish from close range, but soon levelled through Chamakh. The visitors could not maintain that 1-1 scoreline though, with a piledriver from Ramires restoring Chelsea's advantage.
3.57pmAlthough they conceded late in the half Palace should take some heart from scoring when they looked swamped at the back, with Chelsea once again failing to keep a home clean sheet, an obligatory statistic we expected with ease during Mourinho's first spell in charge. The Blues should have more than enough to see out the victory today though.
4.00pmBENCH WATCH! As we await the two teams for the start of the second half it's well worth reminding you of the options Chelsea have in reserve, with Schurrle, Lampard, Ba and Eto'o all waiting in the wings if required.
45 minBack underway at the Bridge, with both bosses deciding against making changes at the break.
48 minHazard's early cross is blocked by Bannan but Chamakh loses out to Essien as the ball comes loose, with play falling back into a familiar patten as Palace give the ball away rather cheaply.
51 minMata appeals for handball in vain after collecting a flick from Willian in the penalty area, but his first-time strike is blocked by a combination from O'Keefe and Mariappa. Soon enough Chelsea are back on the front foot as Willian finds Mata again, but smashes well wide with a skewed effort.
54 minSUBSTITUTION: Palace make a second change and this one is through choice rather than enforced. Bannan is replaced by the pace of Bolasie and the Scotland international looks very disappointed to be replaced.
57 minYELLOW CARD! Palace are pressing higher up the field and attempting to force a response, as Ward and O'Keefe fly into successive strong challenges. Refereee Mark Clattenburg eventually decides to book Essien after a feisty exchange with Chamakh, with studs showing in a late lunge.
60 minPalace are nearly caught cold by a long pass down the line towards Torres, who threatens to break clear before eventually being caught by Gabbidon.
62 minSUBSTITUTION: Mourinho decides to make a change just after the hour mark, with Mata replaced by Oscar in an advanced central position.
64 minA half-chance for Palace as Puncheon stretches Chelsea with pace before crossing for Bolasie, who comes across to loop a header over the crossbar. Encouraging signs for the Eagles.
67 minBack to patient probing for Chelsea as Oscar's cross is knocked away, before O'Keefe and Chamakh combine to create a Palace break. Jerome chases the ball down near the corner flag as he continues to prove a willing runner, but Luiz is across quickly to avert danger.
70 minPalace win a dangerous free kick in a wide position as Ivanovic fouls Chamakh, before talking his way into a yellow card with an angry protest. Puncheon's delivery from the set piece finds Delaney at the far post, but his header ends up going well over the top and never threatens Cech.
73 minIvanovic and Torres both get too much on long diagonal passes in quick succession, with Chelsea just labouring a touch in their attempts to close out this match. All the time Palace are just a goal behind there is still a job to do here.
76 minBolasie's cross is headed away by Ivanovic as the away end roar on their side once more. Soon after Chelsea threaten as Ramires picks out Hazard, with the flag eventually raised after Oscar aimed a low shot straight at Speroni inside the penalty area. Torres was the guilty party in that move, flagged for offside.
79 minOFF THE LINE! Chelsea are very fortunate to still be level after a nervous goalmouth scramble, with O'Keefe's effort blocked away from goal by a last-ditch clearance from Terry on the goalline. From the following corner Bolasie picks out Delaney, but his effort misses the target after the defender nipped ahead of Terry with relative ease.
82 minSUBSTITUTION: Azpilicueta just does enough to stop Jerome meeting Delaney's pass down the line, with Chelsea using a break in-play to make a late change. Willian is the player to make way for Andre Schurrle, who has just under 10 minutes to make an impact.
85 minChelsea fans are voicing their disapproval at a poor finish to the match, as Oscar misplaces a pass. The Blues win the ball back as Schurrle shanks over the top from distance in the next passage of play. Soon after Mourinho makes his final change, with Torres replaced by Demba Ba.
88 minMISS! An atrocious miss from Chelsea as the ball spills to Ramires unmarked in the penalty area. Rather than shoot the Brazilian goes for a pass across goal, giving Speroni the chance to rush off his line and scramble clear. That really should have been the third Chelsea goal.
89 minSUBSTITUTION: One final throw of the dice for Palace as Chamakh is replaced by Gayle heading towards stoppage time. Palace very nearly fall further behind when play resumes, as Schurrle's sidefoot from close range comes back off Speroni before the visitors eventually clear in a frantic goalmouth scramble.
90 min+1Hazard draws a late foul from Puncheon as we head into the first of four added minutes. This has been a very finish from Chelsea but they are closing in on three precious points.
4.55pmWell it was hardly convincing from Chelsea put they did enough to earn an important victory, which takes them to within two points of Premier League leaders Arsenal.
4.58pmPalace have every reason to take heart from their display this afternoon, despite bringing no points back to Selhurst Park. That just about does it for Sports Mole's live coverage from the Bridge, thanks for your company and be sure to check in for comprehensive analysis in about 30 minutes. Good afternoon!