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Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea: Ngolo Kante to the rescue as Sarri’s men leapfrog gunner to top four

This match was won in a rare instance where two players elevated themselves above the mundane and they did so in a way that consolidates faith in Sarri’s system.

Camped inside the Crystal Palace half, Chelsea slowly built up the play, pulling Palace here and there, waiting for their moment. To Sarri’s critics, these periods can be too slow and ponderous. 

Yet centre-half David Luiz made the vital contribution, lifting his head, picking his pass and flighting a sublime pass over the top.  

And here came Sarri’s crowning moment. N’Golo Kante sprinted in from the outside right position, on the inside of Patrick van Aanholt, and chested the ball down with composure before rifling in the finish.

This is what Sarri imagines Kante to be capable of and it was a shot in the arm for those who believe the Frenchman is being wasted in his remoulded position this season.

For Sarri, the goal had broader significance. Chelsea had lost three Premier League games since late November but back-to-back away wins at Watford and Crystal Palace ensure a five-point gap over 5th placed Arsenal and the Italian can look to the New Year with confidence.

This was not a swashbuckling Chelsea display and, in truth, it rarely has been under Sarri.

In fairness to the Italian, he had been forced to shuffle his pack due to injuries. Having deployed Eden Hazard as a centre forward for the previous four Premier Leaguoe games, injuries to Pedro, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek meant a return to the left flank for the Belgian and Olivier Giroud stepped in as the lone frontman. 

Alvaro Morata, left out altogether at Watford, returned to the bench and replaced the injured Giroud in the second period. 

MATCH FACTS AND STATS

Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Guaita 6; Wan-Bissaka 6.5, Tomkins 6, Sakho 6, Van Aanholt 5; Milivojevic (c) 6, McArthur 5.5, Kouyate 5.5 (Meyer 78); Townsend 5.5, Zaha 6, Schlupp 5 (Wickham 69, 6)

Substitutes not used: Hennessey (GK); Ward, Dann, Ayew, Puncheon

Manager: Roy Hodgson 5.5

Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa 6; Azpilicueta (c) 7, Rudiger 6, Luiz 7.5, Alonso 6; Kante 7.5, Jorginho 5.5, Barkley 7 (Kovacic 88); Willian 7 (Emerson 82), Giroud 5.5 (Morata 76), Hazard 6

Substitutes not used: Caballero (GK); Zappacosta, Christensen, Ampadu

Manager: Maurizio Sarri 7

Scorer: Kante 51

Booked: Alonso

Referee: Craig Pawson 6 

WATCH HIGHLIGHT

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