London - Diego Costa struck as Chelsea won 1-0 at Crystal Palace on
Saturday, a club record-equalling 11th straight victory that sent them nine
points clear at the Premier League summit.
Costa's 43rd-minute header was the striker's sixth goal in
his last eight games, his 50th Chelsea goal in total and gave Antonio Conte's
side a third successive 1-0 win.
Chelsea once again delivered a controlled, effective
performance, giving struggling Palace little chance of getting back into the
game once they fell behind.
"The run is fantastic," said Chelsea manager
Conte. "Congratulations to my players, not me. I am pleased for them
because they deserve this.
"We can improve though. It is important to understand
we are only at the 17th game in the season. We must not look at the
Chelsea matched their record of 11 consecutive wins from
April to September 2009, achieving the feat within the same season for the
first time, and remain on course to break Arsenal's all-time record of 14.
The only blemishes were yellow cards for Costa and N'Golo
Kante that mean both players will be suspended for next weekend's home game
The match marked the first anniversary of Jose Mourinho's
dismissal as Chelsea manager and the contrast in fortunes between the two clubs
over the subsequent 12 months has been striking.
This time last year, Palace were in sixth position - they
entered 2016 in fifth - 11 points ahead of Chelsea, who were in danger of
getting drawn into a relegation battle.
With Guus Hiddink taking temporary charge, Chelsea steadied
the ship before this season's resurgence under Conte, while for Palace, 2016
started badly and got worse.
Their dismal run over the calendar year would have seen them relegated if replicated over a whole season.
Yet while they came into the game still smarting from the
late 2-1 defeat by Manchester United in mid-week, there have been promising
signs during a recent spell of improved form.
"We are showing in the last two games what we have
shown most of the year," said Palace manager Alan Pardew. "It was a
strong performance, but they did not give us anything."
Conte opted to restore Nemanja Matic in place of Cesc
Fabregas, despite the Spain midfielder scoring the match-winner at Sunderland
Eden Hazard, meanwhile, returned after missing the
Sunderland clash through injury, with Pedro Rodriguez making way, while Willian
retained his place.
Palace enjoyed long periods of possession in the first half,
but Conte's side held them comfortably at arm's length before Costa struck.
Before then, Palace had the better chances, with Jason Puncheon in particular guilty of missing a clear opportunity when he screwed a first-time shot wide from Martin Kelly's right-wing cross.
While Pardew's side continued to press, with James McArthur
heading wide from another Kelly cross, it was clear that Puncheon's miss could
Chelsea had looked comfortable in possession without truly
stretching Palace and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey had barely been troubled.
But when the home side lost concentration two minutes before
half-time, Costa was on hand to cap a routine move and put the visitors ahead.
Hazard moved the ball from left to right to Cesar
Azpilicueta, who floated a deep cross towards the far post that should have
been dealt with comfortably by the Palace defence.
Instead, it caused confusion, with Hennessey starting to
come for the ball before stopping and Scott Dann failing to monitor Costa's
run, enabling the striker to climb above him and head past Hennessey.
The hard work of the previous 43 minutes had been undone and
instead of holding on, Palace were forced to chase the game after the break.
For 15 minutes after the restart, Pardew's side pressed, but
Chelsea held on comfortably before taking control as they attempted to kill off
Fabregas drew a smart save from Hennessey, low to his right,
and Marcos Alonso struck the bar from a free-kick.