Chelsea goes 2nd, beats Palace 2-1
(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
LONDON (AP) An unconvincing Chelsea beat relegation-threatened Crystal Palace 2-1 Saturday to provisionally move second in the Premier League, only two points behind leader Arsenal.
Fernando Torres scored in the 16th minute at Stamford Bridge before Joel Ward set up Marouane Chamakh to equalize for the visitors in the 29th.
Six minutes later, Ramires grabbed the winner with a right-footed shot from the edge of the area to the top left corner.
Jose Mourinho's team could go top of the league over Christmas with victory against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Dec. 23.
Torres netted his second Premier League goal of the season - only the fifth by a Chelsea striker and the Spaniard's first since his winner in the October defeat of Manchester City.
While Chelsea's strikers are struggling for goals, Chamakh's convincing streak continued as he scored for a third straight game and showed some of the failings present in Mourinho's defense.
Palace, which had won its previous two games, had parity for just six minutes as Ramires struck after being set up by Eden Hazard, to restore the hosts' advantage.
Those expecting Chelsea to romp away with the points and fire a warning to both Arsenal and Manchester City were mistaken and the hosts were indebted to Petr Cech when the goalkeeper saved from substitute Stuart O'Keefe.
Despite the shaking foundations, still Stamford Bridge remains a fortress, as Chelsea extended its unbeaten home run in the league to 16 games and Mourinho's home league record to 68 undefeated.
Torres and Ramires were included as two of five changes following the unconvincing midweek defeat of Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League.
Michael Essien, Juan Mata and Cesar Azpilicueta, preferred to Ashley Cole, all started against a Palace side showing one enforced change from the 2-0 defeat of Cardiff, with Adrian Mariappa replacing Dean Moxey at right back.
Palace harassed and harangued Chelsea early on, so much so that the Blues could not string a meaningful period of possession together.
When they did the warning was there for the Eagles, as Julian Speroni saved Ramires' volley.
Moments later, the goalkeeper turned a stinging shot from another Brazilian on to the post, but Willian's effort rebounded for Torres to pounce and tuck in.
Branislav Ivanovic and Essien shot off target as Chelsea continued to pile the pressure on Palace, which was forced into an early change when Kagisho Dikgacoi was replaced by O'Keefe.
Cameron Jerome forced Cech into a save as the Chelsea defense backed off before the visitors equalized through former Arsenal striker Chamakh.
David Luiz rushed out from defense towards Jason Puncheon, who found Joel Ward on the left. Chamakh found space as marker John Terry lost his man and the Moroccan clipped the ball in beyond Cech.
Palace's joy did not last for long as Willian fed Hazard, who cut in dangerously before teeing up Ramires on the edge of the area. The midfielder took one touch before curling an impressive right-footed effort into the corner.
If anyone expected Chelsea to cruise in the second half, Palace had other ideas.
Puncheon had a shot saved on the counter attack after escaping the attentions of Azpilicueta before his dangerous cross from a free kick saw Damien Delaney head straight at Cech.
Delaney made a well-timed tackle to deny Ivanovic in the area before Mourinho turned to Oscar, who replaced Mata.
The Brazilian could not spark Chelsea into action and instead the Blues had to rely on Cech to stay in front after fine work by Jerome found O'Keefe, whose first shot was excellently saved and his second blocked by Ivanovic before the ball was scrambled clear.
Delaney headed wide from a corner moments later after escaping the attentions of Chelsea's defense, which appeared vulnerable.
Ramires fluffed a golden opportunity for a third. Oscar won the ball from two Palace defenders, but Ramires could not decide whether to shoot or pass to three of his waiting teammates.
Updated December 14, 2013