Pochettino pleased with Chelsea mentality after third-straight home win

Blues score late penalty to defeat Crystal Palace 2-1 at Stamford Bridge

Noni Madueke celebrates with Chelsea teammates after his winning penalty against Crystal Palace. AFP
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Mauricio Pochettino said he is pleased to see Chelsea start to build some form at home after Wednesday night's narrow 2-1 win over Crystal Palace earned a third straight Premier League victory at Stamford Bridge.

Following what Pochettino described as a "nervous" start, Chelsea soon took control of the game and went ahead through Mykhailo Mudryk, the Ukrainian winger expertly set up by French full-back Malo Gusto, who impressed throughout.

The Blues looked in total control for much of the remainder of the first half but once again, familiar problems at either end of the pitch proved costly. Several chances to extend their lead were squandered before a defensive lapse left Michel Olisie unmarked at the back post as the French forward finished superbly to level moments before the break.

The equalising goal shifted the dynamic for the second half as Chelsea struggled to maintain their dominance, despite controlling possession, while Palace provided plenty of threat on the counter-attack.

Still, the hosts had two excellent chances to retake the lead, both through striker Nicolas Jackson. The Senegalese first missed a simple chance when his clipped effort sailed wide of the post; he thought he made amends with a first-time finish from Thiago Silva's deep cross but was marginally offside.

Another frustrating performance and result looked in store for Chelsea, until substitute Noni Madueke turned the game in their favour in the final few minutes when the English winger was fouled just inside the Palace penalty area by Eberechi Eze. After a VAR check, the penalty was awarded and Madueke stepped up to calmly slot past Palace goalkeeper Dean Henderson.

"I said it was Conor [Gallagher's penalty], but I said to Conor if Noni was more confident you can give him the penalty," Chelsea manager Pochettino said. "You have to be confident in that moment.

"I am so happy because a player who comes from the bench needs to show this character and this hunger. He showed he was ready to take the opportunity."

Madueke, a January signing from PSV Eindhoven, had impressed during his first half-season with Chelsea but injury and the arrival of Cole Palmer have limited his chances so far this season. However, he impressed during his 20-plus minutes from the bench on Wednesday and his manager was delighted with his contribution.

"He played free. He did what we needed in this moment," Pochettino said. "I liked it because he showed he was disappointed with me because he didn’t play too much."

Chelsea v Crystal Palace player ratings

The win was the third in a row at home in the Premier League for Chelsea after victories over Sheffield United and Brighton and Hove Albion, ending a long run of poor home form that stretched back into last season.

But those victories have contrasted with away defeats at Newcastle United, Manchester United, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers, leaving Chelsea firmly stuck in mid-table.

"When you come from a not nice result [the 2-1 defeat at Wolves], it’s always a difficult moment to play. It was really tough, but I’m pleased with the performance overall," Pochettino said.

"We didn’t start well; we were a little bit nervous and struggled because we were thinking too much about a game we really needed to win.

"We were talking at the end about mentality," added Pochettino. "Mentality is about preparing yourself, competing in the best way, knowing the Premier League is really tough. That is where we want to be consistent, it’s a big challenge.

"We are starting to build our run of winning games at Stamford Bridge. The last year or year-and-an-half the results were not so good, so it’s so important to win in front of our fans."

A huge positive for Chelsea and their fans was the sight of Christopher Nkunku making his first start for the club. The French forward, a summer signing from RB Leipzig, had been sidelined since sustaining a knee injury in pre-season, and there are high hopes he will provide the Blues a greater goal threat.

After scoring on his debut off the bench in the defeat to Wolves, Nkunku impressed in the No 10 role against Palace, particularly in the first half, although Pochettino has urged patience as the France international builds up fitness.

"He needs to adapt to the team and the Premier League, but he played more than 60 minutes and it was an important step for him," he said. "There were a few combinations that were very good but we need to repeat these actions. We need him to be more involved but it's normal, it's his first 70 minutes. He needs to play games and he will start to find himself and adapt."

While Palace had been second-best for much of the match, the visitors still had their chances to leave Stamford Bridge with at least a point. However, the defeat extended a difficult run of form and the Eagles, who have not won since November 4, are just three points above the relegation zone.

"I think the team's performance meant it was a tough pill to swallow," Palace manager Roy Hodgson told the BBC. "We're near the bottom of table but the fact is we have had a difficult run of games."

Updated: December 28, 2023, 5:57 AM