Kai Havertz scores as Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 1-0

Kai Havertz scores a header for Chelsea
Kai Havertz scores a header for Chelsea

What started with heads bowed in solemn remembrance of the past ended with slightly raised chins in hope for Chelsea’s future.

The first home game since the grossly premature death of legendary striker Gianluca Vialli provided a chance for a club recently built on instant success to draw breath.

A parade of the Italian’s old team-mates, banners at each end of Stamford Bridge and his name being chanted in the 58th minute to reflect the age at which he lost his battle against cancer.

Vialli is associated with a different era at Chelsea. When the club was not blessed with the bloated bank account it boasted under former owner Roman Abramovich and now with new chairman Todd Boehly.

In the three seasons before Vialli signed on a free transfer in 1996, Chelsea finished 11th twice and 14th – not too far from where they now find themselves.

But the pressure that comes with massive finance and high ambition means this is now considered a disaster and relatively new manager Graham Potter is already facing calls by some fans to be sacked.

Potter is a slow burner and sought assurances he will be given time to implement his plans to turn things around.

A first win in five games by the odd goal with a clean sheet is hardly the stuff of open top bus parades, yet only last week Potter admitted he could not see a way out of his current problems trying to salvage a season slipping away so quickly.

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Three days after a disastrous 2-1 defeat at Fulham and coming as close to being heckled by fed up fans outside the ground as he has so far in his brief reign, there came the first green shoots of recovery.

It was symbolised by the performance of new defender Benoit Badiashile. A lean, pacey and composed centre half making his debut after a £35million move from Monaco.

His first touch and sense of assurance alongside veteran Thiago Silva at the back, coupled with a cracking performance from goalkeeper Kepa at least suggests the alarming inconsistencies in Potter’s rearguard lately can be overcome.

While Potter waits for his long list of casualties on the injury list to recover he can at least rely on someone.

There is still much to do and Chelsea’s pragmatic and honest manager will admit as much.

His team line ups will be chopped and changed in the coming weeks because of the horrendous sick list and the flood of new players arriving during his first transfer window in charge.

Needs are such at Chelsea that new signings barely get the chance to blow the ink dry on their mammoth contracts before being shunted out into the light for their debuts.

It happened last Thursday at Fulham with Joao Felix. And that ended well, with a three match ban for the bewildered Portuguese forward having been sent off for violent conduct, having had no adjustment time since arriving on loan.

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Badiashile at least has had a week or so to find his feet before being put to work.

His welcome addition to Chelsea led to improved performances elsewhere. Keeper Kepa in particular made fine saves from Tyrick Mitchell, Michael Olise, Jeff Schlupp and Cheick Doucoure.

Palace battered Chelsea at the end and can count themselves unlucky to have come up against Badiashile determined to impress in his first game.

But like Chelsea they lack a clinical finisher.

Goalscorer Havertz did well to power in over Doucoure to head the 64th minute winner. But the German does not terrify defences and is nowhere near prolific enough to get the job full time.

Palace have some exciting players and plenty of energy but have yet to beat a team from the top half of the division and face a hellish run against Manchester United then Newcastle.

Potter can breathe a sigh of relief at finding an unlikely ally in Palace. As a former Brighton boss he might have expected more resistance from his old club’s bitter rivals.

He will be more upbeat after seeing his team chisel out a victory to boost confidence levels but knows he is still way short of his best team.

David Datro Fofana – the new £20million striker from Norwegians Molde – almost made it on from the bench but was then told to stand down.

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Players are arriving thick and fast at Chelsea and the mid to long term future looks slightly brighter today for them but they are still crying out for a striker – even if only for the short term.

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