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Chelsea moved up to second in the Barclays Premier League with a 2-1 London derby victory over Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.
Jose Mourinho backed his strikers ahead of the game and Fernando Torres responded by scoring his first goal since October to put Chelsea in front. In-form Palace striker Marouane Chamakh scored his third goal in as many games to equalise, but Ramires notched his first Barclays Premier League goal of the season with a fine strike to restore Chelsea's advantage before half-time.
Palace have been resurgent under new manager Tony Pulis and had chances to get something out of the game, but Chelsea held on to secure a seventh win out of eight home matches in the top flight and close the gap on leaders Arsenal to two points. Defeat for Palace ensured they remain in the relegation zone, but Pulis will take plenty of heart from their display.
Petr Cech replaced veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer as Mourinho made six changes to the Chelsea side who beat Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday night in the UEFA Champions League. Crystal Palace left-back Dean Moxey was ruled out with a hamstring problem, so Adrian Mariappa came into the starting line-up.
Chelsea enjoyed plenty of possession early on and were in front after 16 minutes, when Willian's shot from 20 yards out was tipped on to a post by Julian Speroni and Torres reacted quickly to pounce from close range. Branislav Ivanovic almost doubled the home side's lead four minutes later as he burst into the penalty area and flashed a right-foot strike narrowly wide of the far post.
Palace responded and were level after 29 minutes when Chamakh produced a fine left-foot finish to guide home Joel Ward's cross. Eden Hazard was a constant menace to the Palace defence and the winger cut in from the left to set up Ramires, who let fly from 20 yards out with a venomous right-foot strike to put Chelsea back in front 10 minutes before half-time.
Chelsea made a bright start to the second half and Willian raced away down the left and picked out Juan Mata four minutes after the break, but the Spain midfielder scuffed his left-foot shot wide. Palace were posing problems for the Chelsea defence and Jason Puncheon produced some trickery to fashion a chance for himself, but Cech got down well to save the winger's right-foot strike.
Yannick Bolasie spurned a chance to equalise when he headed over from 10 yards, then Damian Delaney also headed over as Chelsea lived dangerously.
Torres almost gave Chelsea breathing space, but his right-foot effort was well saved by the agile Speroni after 74 minutes. Palace came close again three minutes later when Stuart O'Keefe was thwarted by Cech and Ivanovic produced some desperate defending to deny the substitute from the rebound.
Ramires could have made sure of the win five minutes from time, but he fluffed his shot and Speroni gathered. The Palace goalkeeper made a final double save to deny Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba in a hectic finale.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: "It was tense, it could be four or 5-1 but could also be 2-2. It is tense because you feel the chances you lose, and that you could kill your opponent. After that when you don't and when you're not in the best place of your game your opponent can punish you.
"We had a chance to make it 2-0 in the first half through Branislav Ivanovic, we don't and they make it 1-1. In the second half when we were winning 2-1 we had lots of chances to score and kill the game, we don't and they do. So, four or 5-1 could be 2-2 - we had lots of chances."
Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis: "We were a little on the back foot in the first half but in the second we pushed up and to be in the game for 94 minutes is testament to the effort. The important thing is that the lads keep believing we have got a chance and keep playing with that commitment. The lads have bought in to what we’re trying to do and I always try to galvanise the spirit in a football club."
|23 Dec 2013||v Arsenal (A)|
|26 Dec 2013||v Swansea (H)|
|29 Dec 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|01 Jan 2014||v Southampton (A)|
|11 Jan 2014||v Hull (A)|
|19 Jan 2014||v Man Utd (H)|