In what was possibly the upset of the season, the maybe-soon-to-be relegated Crystal Palace beat almost-definitely-soon-to-be-champions Chelsea and ruined everyone’s accumulators.
Before this, there was a 40+ point gap between the two clubs, Palace had languished, lacking goals and any kind of defence. In comparison, Chelsea had flew into an untouchable realm in regards to the rest of the table.
They were unplayable, uncatchable, and unbeatable. Then the most unlikely of conquistadors rocked up to Stamford Bridge and ruined the good fun. But how? No one else (other than Tottenham) had really managed?
Four simple things really;
Crystal Palace defended like champions, not like the relegation-worried outfit they actually are. I hate to say it, but Big Sam strikes again.
I have no idea what he really does, but saving an alright team that has had a shocker of a season seems to be his bread and butter. Its what he does, and he’s good at it.
Chelsea through attack after attack at Palace but a combination of Delaney, Tomkins, Dann and Sakho, a changed back line due to injuries, repelled all but Cesc Fabregas’ opener. Hennessey also put a heroic shift in in goal – Chelsea had 11 shots in the first half and 13 more after the break, including 11 on target.
I know how basic this analysis looks. But their rock-like defence coupled beautifully with their scissor-like attack. Palace had exactly what Chelsea appeared to lack, that sharp cutting edge.
This edge came with Zaha.
Both of Palace’s goals came from Zaha’s magic and work-rate. The first showcased his strength and finishing ability, guiding it right in the bottom corner. The second saw Zaha put Benteke through on goal, and in that situation even Courtois didn’t stand much of a chance. The dink-finish was also a plus.
After Palace had gone up in the 11th minute they reverted to the game plan that we’ve seen so regularly from Big Sam – get up in their faces early on, bag a few goals, then defend like your life depends on it.
Again, they did it and it worked.
This brings me to my third point; Palace, despite a heroic performance, did get a touch lucky. Chelsea weren’t in good form defensively today. Over 91 seconds Palace had been let in twice, and capitalised on it twice. That’s only a little over and minute and a half of poor concentration and three points have gone down the drain. Football’s cruel I guess.
They also struggled, as I’ve said earlier, to nail down chances. They undeniably created them, crosses and all sorts of attacking passing moves, yet only Fabregas put one in, aside from that they were off the mark.
Maybe Palace were lucky to catch the Blues on a bad day, but they were smart not to let the chance slip.
This is what Big Sam brings.
Organisation at the back and going forward – everybody with a job to do and everybody doing their job. Like a well-oiled machine.
Okay clichés out of the way now, I don’t know how exactly he drills this blueprint into his players’ heads. Fear is one possibility, slipping them and extra £400,000 is another, but I’ll leave that to speculation.
The point is, one great defensive display from Sakho wouldn’t of meant a thing if the rest of the team weren’t on the same Allardyce-inspired page. The same can be said for Hennessey and Zaha.
So there you go, as with all things, it boils down to Big Sam scaring a performance out of a previously half-asleep Premier League team. Great to watch though, even if it did ruin your 10-fold sure thing.
By James Doherty.