The Briefing: Crystal Palace 1 Chelsea 3: Goalscoring Gallagher, Silva's recall and an unwanted record
When Chelsea made light of Aston Villa’s superb home record to win the teams’ FA Cup replay last week, it was achieved thanks to their best performance of the season and pointed to a change in fortunes.
Five days on, a tepid first-half display against Crystal Palace threatened to derail that sense of progress. Coming up against a side enduring their own difficulties, Chelsea were laboured in possession, created no chances of note (more on that below) and fell behind to Jefferson Lerma’s superb long-range strike.
Fortunately for Mauricio Pochettino — a manager who can rival Palace’s Roy Hodgson in the under-pressure stakes — Conor Gallagher equalised shortly after the break and Chelsea were much improved in the second half.
They carried more of a threat from that point on and snatched all three points in stoppage time when Gallagher stroked in his second, before Enzo Fernande added an even later third.
Victory means Chelsea have now recorded 13 consecutive wins against Palace and, more importantly, moves them up to 10th in the table and adds to the sense that momentum can be built going into the latter stages of the campaign.
Simon Johnson answers the key questions from the game at Selhurst Park.
Is Gallagher starting to repay his manager’s faith?
Pochettino should be relieved that Gallagher likes playing at Selhurst Park so much.
The England international came into the game with fond memories of playing at this stadium. Firstly, it was while he was on loan from Chelsea at Crystal Palace in the 2021-22 that the midfielder proved he could thrive at the highest level.
An impressive eight goals from 34 Premier League appearances made many Crystal Palace fans hope he could be signed on a permanent basis, but to no avail.
Gallagher became a member of Chelsea’s senior squad instead and it was in a match at Palace that he scored his first goal for the club, sending a superb shot into the top corner in the 90th minute to secure the three points in October 2022.
Goals have been a lot harder for Gallagher this season. He actually went 34 matches and nine months without scoring until he scored at Aston Villa last week.
Concerns over his lack of finishing prowess will have eased a little after he did so much to rescued this win for his side.
The quality of his strikes in the second half were not that of a man who has forgotten how to score. He dispatched crosses from Malo Gusto and Cole Palmer past Dean Henderson to great effect.
No one celebrated more than Pochettino on the touchline. Those strikes turned a night of despair to one of great relief, with Fernandez adding a late third to make the scoreline very flattering.
What a STRIKE! ⚡
Conor Gallagher scores against his former team! 😬 pic.twitter.com/tq8y87LdOS
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 12, 2024
Why were Chelsea so sluggish in the first half?
Chelsea have made a habit of struggling to break down teams who sit deep and defend, but they took it to a whole new level in the opening 45 minutes.
It was an exhibition of passing safely from one team-mate to another, with very little speed or intent with each attempt.
There was a real danger of Chelsea going through the entire half without having a single attempt on goal, which would have been a great cause of embarrassment.
A late scuffed effort by Gallagher in stoppage time — it drifted harmlessly past the far post — spared their blushes. Sort of.
Yet the visitors still managed to achieve an unwanted Premier League record. They racked up a remarkable 420 passes without registering a shot on target — no team has made that many passes while failing to hit the target since that data began to be collected in 2003-04.
Fortunately for Chelsea this terrible streak did not carry on into the second half, with Gallagher finding the net within two minutes of the restart.
Was Thiago Silva’s recall the right decision?
Firstly, it is important to stress Pochettino did not have much choice because Benoit Badiashile was ruled out with a groin problem, while Levi Colwill and Trevoh Chalobah were fit enough only to make the bench after injury issues.
But the debate over Silva’s role in the side was always going to come under scrutiny given his absence at Villa Park last week coincided with Chelsea’s best performance of the season as they secured an impressive 3-1 victory.
Silva has been a wonderful servant for Chelsea but at 39 years old his game is inevitably going to be on the slower side.
At Aston Villa, Chelsea were able to play a lot higher up the pitch due to having Axel Disasi and Badiashile operating next to each other at centre-back.
With Silva in the line-up at Selhurst Park, Chelsea sat a lot deeper and that allowed Crystal Palace plenty of time to drop deep and frustrate the visitors’ attacking players.
In the first half Chelsea were also more susceptible to Palace’s speed on the counter-attack.
Still, it would be wrong to blame Chelsea’s abject showing in the first half on Silva alone and he could do little to stop Lerma from scoring. A number of players were underwhelming and lacking ideas.
Jefferson LERMA with his first goal for Crystal Palace!! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/vgrLh2Gg0L
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 12, 2024
And Silva showed all his quality and experience just before the hour mark to get back to block Jean-Philippe-Mateta’s shot. It was his last contribution as he instantly signalled to the bench he had to come off and Colwill entered the fray.
One now has to wonder just how many more games Silva will have in a Chelsea shirt. His contract is up at the end of the season and it is not expected to be renewed. A time on the sidelines will give Pochettino the chance to go with younger players instead, if they stay fit of course.
What did Pochettino say?
We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.
What next for Chelsea?
Saturday, February 17: Man City (A), Premier League, 5.30pm GMT, 12.30pm ET
The evidence of this season suggests Chelsea will have their moments at the Etihad before getting soundly beaten as Pochettino fumes at his players in his technical area. Let’s see…
(Top photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)