LONDON (AP) — Hakim Ziyech volleyed in an 89th-minute winner as Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 1-0 on Saturday on its return to Premier League action after triumphing at the Club World Cup.
The Morocco winger was lurking at the far post to meet Marcos Alonso’s cross with a cushioned volley into the net, allowing Chelsea to consolidate third place and move seven points clear of fourth-place Manchester United.
VAR had previously denied Ziyech a second-half goal after striker Romelu Lukaku, who only had seven touches at Selhurst Park, was deemed to be offside.
Chelsea has had a week off since becoming club world champions in Abu Dhabi and this was its first league match since Jan. 23.
The late withdrawals of Cesar Azpilicueta and Callum Hudson-Odoi weakened the visitors in south London but Palace had problems of its own, with Joel Ward and Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher unavailable.
It resulted in Palace coach Patrick Vieira switching formation to a 4-2-3-1, with Michael Olise recalled, and he nearly opened the scoring after seven minutes.
Wilfried Zaha, deployed down the middle, found Olise on the right but after he worked a bit of space up against Antonio Rudiger, he could only drag his effort wide.
Tuchel’s side responded with Christian Pulisic blazing over a half-volley before Rudiger’s spectacular effort from more than 35 yards (meters) forced a fine save by Vicente Guaita.
N’Golo Kante was the next player to be presented with an opportunity after 20 minutes following a wonderful through ball by the recalled Malang Sarr but the World Cup winner fired straight at Guaita, and it was the hosts who finished the first 45 stronger.
Three corners in quick succession lifted the atmosphere inside a wet and wind-battered Selhurst Park before a big opportunity was created prior to halftime.
Zaha timed his run and was found by Olise’s perfectly weighted pass but, with the angle tight, the Ivory Coast international could only shoot past the post with just goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to beat.
Palace was forced into a change at the break with Jack Butland introduced for first-choice goalkeeper Guaita, and he was braced for action when Kai Havertz was fouled a yard outside the area but Ziyech’s subsequent effort hit the wall.
Lukaku had cut a frustrated figure and only touched the ball on four occasions by the hour mark, one being a kickoff.
Despite his lack of touches, Lukaku survived a triple change frm Thomas Tuchel to remain on the pitch and it almost paid dividends instantly.
Substitute Mateo Kovacic’s first touch was a pass into Lukaku, who saw a shot saved by Butland and Ziyech was on hand to tap home the rebound.
Chelsea’s joy was cut short though by VAR with the goal ruled out because Lukaku had been offside, which sparked celebrations from the home crowd.
Chelsea would not be denied and it was another substitute, Alonso, who created the winner for Ziyech’s seventh goal of the season.
Zaha went close again almost straight from kickoff but Palace lost for a ninth consecutive time to Chelsea.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports