LONDON (Reuters) – A late goal from Hakim Ziyech gave Chelsea a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace on Saturday, as the newly crowned world champions just about managed to return to winning ways in the Premier League after nearly a month’s absence.
Moroccan winger Ziyech kept his eye on a looping cross by substitute Marcos Alonso and calmly side-footed in the volley at the far post in the 89th minute to give Chelsea the win that they had looked unlikely to claim.
Palace limited the visitors to only a handful of opportunities including a 35-yard pile-driver shot by centre-half Antonio Rudiger in the 11th minute that Vicente Guaita palmed away acrobatically.
The hosts had their own chances, with Wilfried Zaha and Michael Olise coming close as Palace sought to catch the visitors on the counter-attack.
Chelsea won the FIFA World Club Cup last weekend and now face Lille in Tuesday’s first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie before taking on Liverpool in the League Cup final next weekend.
With those challenges looming, they will need to get more out of record signing Romelu Lukaku, who mostly cut a lonely figure in attack once again.
The Belgian had just seven touches of the ball – the fewest in a Premier League game for a player on the pitch for at least 90 minutes since such data began to be collected in full in the 2003-04 season.
Lukaku thought he had created a goal for Ziyech in the 75th minute but he was adjudged by VAR to have been offside.
There was no denying the Moroccan his late strike 14 minutes later, however, his third goal in his last three league games.
“It was a difficult game with only a small number of chances. Then the best feeling to score in the last minute,” Ziyech told BBC television.
The win left Chelsea seven points behind second-placed Liverpool, who beat Norwich City, and 13 points behind leaders Manchester City who were playing Tottenham Hotspur in Saturday’s late kick-off.
The Blues have all but given up their hopes of winning the league but remain on course for a top four finish.
Palace sit in 13th place.
Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel had to rethink his back line due to injuries with Andreas Christensen moving from his usual centre-half spot to start as right back. The lack of wing-backs left the Blues struggling to create chances until Alonso came on and provided the cross for Ziyech to settle the match.
Palace coach Patrick Vieira lamented what he said was a late lapse in concentration when his defenders failed to deal with the danger posed by Alonso’s cross.
“To get punished like that at the end is really difficult for the players because I think they deserved a draw today,” Vieira said.
(Reporting by William Schomberg; Editing by Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson)