Chelsea lack cutting edge vs. Palace and show why they need Mudryk
10: 59 AM ET
Tom HamiltonSenior Writer
- • Joined ESPN in 2011
• Covered two Olympics, a pair of Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours
• Previously rugby editor, and became senior writer in 2018
LONDON — Kai Havertz’s goal in the second half gave Chelsea a key 1-0 win over Crystal Palace to end their run of four games without a victory.
The win lifts the pressure a little on coach Graham Potter, while Chelsea also used the occasion to unveil new €70m signing Mykhailo Mudryk at half-time.
Both teams had carved out decent opportunities in the first half but failed to score until Havertz found the breakthrough in the 65th minute with a close-range header off a well-worked corner. For Crystal Palace, the defeat was their fourth in five games in all competitions.
JUMP TO: Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Chelsea blunt in attack, but is Mudryk the answer?
After a first half in which Chelsea prodded away at Crystal Palace‘s defence and failed to find a cutting edge, the attention at Stamford Bridge shifted away momentarily from the match at hand. At half-time their latest big-money signing (potentially €100m with add-ons) was presented to the crowd as Mudryk stood in the centre circle, draped in the Ukraine flag.
The whole signing has been a curious process — from the gazumping of Arsenal, to Chelsea adding his name to their official Instagram bio, to pleading to their fans to give Mudryk a nice welcome before he’d even been confirmed — but parading him at half-time of a match was an odd move and felt a little like a diversionary tactic.
Chelsea’s fans were far more concerned with what they’d witnessed from the players in the first half. Up until that point, the attack had showed glimpses but ultimately failed to get the breakthrough. Left-back Lewis Hall flashed one shot wide, while Havertz had the best chance as he headed over from close range after a delightful ball over the top from the outstanding Hakim Ziyech, who was Chelsea’s chief creative force.
With Armando Broja, Raheem Sterling, Christian Pulisic and the banned Joao Felix all absent (as well as Pierre Emerick Aubameyang benched) it has been on Havertz to lead the line. He has come in for criticism recently but eventually found the net from a well-worked corner routine in the 65th minute. Then came a reminder of his profligacy in the 80th minute as he flashed a header wide when he should’ve scored.
Chelsea must solve this wastefulness up front and will look to their new faces. Felix has two more matches on his ban, while David Datro Fofana is more a signing for the future, so the focus switches to Mudryk. January signings sometimes take time to bed in (though Benoit Badiashile’s debut went well) and while Mudryk’s talent is unquestioned, this will be a step up for him. At a time where Chelsea are looking to find quick fixes to their on-field struggles, the pressure is on him to deliver from the outset.
2. Palace need to get back to winning ways
Heading into this trip to Stamford Bridge, Crystal Palace had three defeats in their past four matches. Each time they played with attacking endeavour and rattled the opposition through their skillful forwards, but ultimately came up short. And it was the same here.
Michael Olise caused Chelsea difficulty and forced a smart save from Kepa in the first half from a neatly struck half-volley. Tyrick Mitchell also had a close-range effort well saved. But for all the times they had Chelsea backpedalling, it came to nothing.
Palace saw Joachim Andersen forced off through injury in the first half and failed to find any momentum for much of the second. Coach Patrick Vieira emptied the bench, bringing on Jean-Philippe Mateta and Odsonne Edouard, but they could not find a way to make an impact.
And it’s not going to get much easier for them. They have Manchester United twice and Newcastle once in the next three matches, and then host high-flying Brighton before a trip to Brentford. Vieira needs to start getting his team back to winning ways or they’ll be dragged into an ugly battle at the foot of the table.
3. Chelsea remember their great No. 9
It was an emotional day at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea remembered the late, great Gianluca Vialli, who died on Jan. 6. The matchday programme had tributes to the great man, while there were plenty of reminders of the impact he had on the club.
You can’t escape the history at Chelsea, with images everywhere of their past success, and Vialli has been crucial to that. He played 88 times for Chelsea, scoring 40 goals and managed the club from 1998 to 2000. Following the news of his passing, this was the first time Chelsea had the chance to recognise their favourite son at home.
The players wore “Vialli 9” shirts in the warm-up, while a video tribute played to him as the players congregated in the centre circle before kickoff. A host of his former teammates joined the current crop to pay tribute to Vialli, with John Terry, Mark Hughes, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Carlo Cudicini all there among many others. And at both ends of the ground, supporters unveiled huge banners to Vialli. One read: “When his goals light the sky, there’s a tear in my eye.”
Best and worst performers
BEST: Conor Gallagher — He scored the winner against his former side earlier in the season and was superb against Palace again on Sunday.
BEST: Hakim Ziyech — Perhaps there’s a future for him after all at Stamford Bridge. The winger was exceptional for Chelsea and was at the heart of the chances they created.
BEST: Kepa — The goalkeeper has been repeatedly questioned, but three times he was called upon to make smart saves and kept Palace at bay.
WORST: Wilfried Zaha — Failed to make an impact on the match in the first half and while he saw more of the ball late on, the winger cut a frustrated figure at times.
WORST: Carney Chukwuemeka – The 19-year-old Chelsea midfielder struggled to find a foothold in the match.
WORST: Eberechi Eze — Eventually substituted in the 70th minute, the winger hadn’t found a way to cause Chelsea’s defence much trouble.
Highlights and notable moments
Chelsea took the rather weird decision to unveil €70m new signing Mykhailo Mudryk at half-time.
Our 🆕 face! pic.twitter.com/dm7EDkLZPw
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 15, 2023
But while the focus was on the new arrival, Havertz did the business on the pitch to give the Blues the lead.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) January 15, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Kai Havertz: “The last few weeks were tough. For everyone at the club, it is not easy under these circumstances. A lot of things changed this year. We have so many injuries, 10-12 injured players. Today we had five young players in the starting XI, they are doing a really good job at the moment. I think I was in a good spot. Hakim gave me a lot of good balls. I play in the number nine position and I take the responsibility to score more goals, we as a team need to score more goals. I will do my best to help the team.”
Chelsea boss Graham Potter: “Today we are happy for the three points. Overall we played quite well, they had their moments as well but today was about getting the victory – park it as three valuable points against a team that was pushing as well. We try to play well and I thought at times we did, you have to understand the context of the situation we are in so it isn’t going to be sensational football all the time. The boys have worked hard.”
Potter on new signing Mudryk: “He is a young player with exciting quality in the final third. He is very fast and direct and I think the crowd will like him.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Chelsea registered just two shots on target against Crystal Palace after 60 minutes.
– Kai Havertz is now Chelsea’s top scorer in the Premier League (5).
– Chelsea have won 12 consecutive games against Palace in all competitions.
– Via Opta: Mykhailo Mudryk has been directly involved in 14 goals in just 12 appearances in the Ukrainian Premier League this season (7 goals, 7 assists), the most of any player, contributing to a goal every 65 minutes on average.
Chelsea: A big game away at struggling Liverpool is next up on Jan. 21.
Crystal Palace: They host Man United on Jan. 18 and then Newcastle United arrive at Selhurst Park on Jan. 21.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.