Alonso’s sweet strike sparks dominant Chelsea victory over Crystal Palace

Alonso’s sweet strike sparks dominant Chelsea victory over Crystal Palace

Perhaps Thomas Tuchel was merely trying to create the illusion of competitive tension when he screamed at Christian Pulisic after a slack piece of play from the American winger midway through the first half. To be honest, it felt a bit unnecessary from Chelsea’s manager. After all, consider the context: the sun was shining on a packed Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were a goal to the good and it was already clear they were far too strong for a mediocre Crystal Palace.

Yet Tuchel has high standards. He does not hide his feelings when he spots lethargy from his players and he knows that his team must become more ruthless if they are to loosen Manchester City’s grip on the Premier League title.

“I see ourselves as the No 4 [team],” he said, refusing to talk up his side as title favourites after their comfortable win. “We are in the role of the hunters. We have to close the gap.”

This is the challenge for Chelsea. Although they are the European champions, they finished fourth last season and often infuriated Tuchel with their carelessness in the final third. They still have room for improvement in attack and while Chelsea played with plenty of style as they eased past Palace, it was not hard to work out why they have spent £97.5m on bringing Romelu Lukaku back to west London.

It is not that they struggled without him. Chelsea cruised despite the absence of the former Internazionale striker, who should be ready to feature against Arsenal next Sunday. They looked formidable at times, even with Hakim Ziyech and N’Golo Kante unavailable and Kai Havertz coming on in the 82nd minute after running himself into the ground during last Wednesday’s victory over Villarreal on penalties in the Super Cup, and they could have won by more.

All the same Tuchel acknowledged that Chelsea can still become sharper in their attacking play.

Perhaps he was thinking of Timo Werner, who produced yet another uneven display up front. As usual Werner was full of running, often twisting away from Palace’s new centre-back Marc Guéhi, who endured a difficult debut against his old club. The only problem was that the German striker remained erratic in front of goal, twice spurning presentable chances with scruffy finishes.

Nonetheless, Chelsea were too strong. There was a special free-kick from Marcos Alonso to open the scoring and the game was over as a contest when Pulisic, responding to Tuchel’s tongue-lashing, made it 2-0 five minutes before half-time.

It quickly became an ordeal for Palace, who will need time to adjust to Vieira’s focus on possession. They are in transition after parting company with Roy Hodgson and offered few signs of a change in style.

Their defenders looked uncomfortable when they tried to bring the ball out from the back and their prosaic midfield proved no match for Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic. As for Wilfried Zaha, he could get barely get on the ball.

“We need to work hard to bring in a couple of players,” Vieira said. “We are short on numbers. The young players on the bench did well but they are not ready to play at that level.”

At least Palace succeeded in keeping Chelsea at arm’s length for a while, restricting them to hopeful efforts from Mount and Pulisic. Yet the breakthrough always felt inevitable. Mount was a busy presence, always probing and dropping into clever positions, and the goal arrived when Tyrick Mitchell fouled the Chelsea midfielder in the 27th minute, offering Alonso the chance to bend a glorious left-footed free-kick past Vicente Guiata.

Chelsea soon doubled their lead. Mount was involved again, combining with César Azpilicueta and sending a low cross into the six-yard box, where Guiata messily pushed the ball to Pulisic for an easy finish.

Chelsea were in control and although Palace briefly stirred at the start of the second half, Zaha denied by Antonio Rüdiger’s challenge, the pattern remained the same. Alonso almost scored another spectacular goal and there was a moment for the home fans to cherish when Trevoh Chalobah stepped out of the back three before smashing a low drive past Guiata from 25 yards.

It was a lovely moment for Chalobah on his Premier League debut. The 22-year-old academy graduate, who spent last season on loan at Lorient in Ligue 1, has forced his way into Tuchel’s thoughts after an impressive pre-season and he showed his delight by dropping to his knees before kissing the turf.

“It is a perfect afternoon … it was a very good game from us,” Tuchel said.

Tammy Abraham, meanwhile, is expected in Rome today to complete a €40m plus add-ons move to José Mourinho’s Roma. The 23-year-old has played a bit-part role for Chelsea since Tuchel’s appointment as head coach in late January. The deal is understood to include a buy-back clause.