Diego Costa scored his 50th Chelsea goal as the Blues made it 11 straight wins with a 1-0 success at Crystal Palace to go nine points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Exactly a year on from sacking Jose Mourinho for overseeing such a poor defence of their title, the Blues went nine points clear of closest challengers Liverpool and Arsenal with a goal from the rejuvenated Diego Costa.
Liverpool and Arsenal retain a game in hand on Antonio Conte’s impressive team, but they will regardless be top at Christmas and will likely remain there heading into 2017.
Chelsea last won 11 games in succession when Carlo Ancelotti’s team in the 2009/10 season continued the fine form produced under Guus Hiddink in their final league fixtures of 2008/09. Perhaps more importantly, they also improved on the 10 straight wins achieved in 2005/06 under Mourinho by a team widely considered their greatest ever.
Yet for a side in such irrepressible form and with so few distractions from their pursuit of the title, Chelsea seemed surprisingly short of inspiration throughout much of the first half.
Palace’s impressive organisation had restricted their creativity and the ability of wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso to stretch play, ensuring that before the 36th minute they had offered little.
Even then, after the classiest of touches from the fit-again Hazard allowed them to break, a poor pass from Alonso when well-placed to put Willian through on goal allowed Jason Puncheon to intercept and clear.
Shortly afterwards Palace’s James McArthur headed wide from Martin Kelly’s cross, and Puncheon curled a free-kick just over the crossbar, but a goal appeared no likelier to follow.
It was in the 43rd minute when, with little obvious threat, Hazard’s pass played Cesar Azpilicueta into space on the right wing, and from there the Spaniard curled a superb cross towards Costa. Under little pressure from Scott Dann – the defender’s uncertainty appeared to owe much to Hennessey’s poor positioning – the striker then casually headed his 13th league goal of the season over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
Palace’s results have been so poor – they have won just one of their past 10 – the suspicion was their confidence would drop and that Chelsea had already done enough for three points.
Pressure has grown on Alan Pardew’s position, but even as Chelsea came close to a second goal with two strikes from Alonso and further efforts from substitute Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante, there was little question Palace were playing for their manager.
In the 83rd minute, after the impressive Damien Delaney fouled Hazard on the edge of the area, Alonso curled a free-kick against the underside of the crossbar,
A second goal was not forthcoming but it was never truly needed. Palace’s eighth defeat from their past 10 leaves them worryingly close to the bottom of the table, though perhaps against any other team than Chelsea they would have avoided defeat.
Antonio Conte is the first Premier League manager to win 14 of his opening 17 games in the competition.
Chelsea have now equalled their all-time top-flight club record run of 11 consecutive wins; also set in September 2009.
It’s also Chelsea’s longest-ever winning streak in a single league season.
Crystal Palace have lost more Premier League games in 2016 than any other team (22).
No Premier League side has won more London derbies than Chelsea (116) – level with Arsenal.
Diego Costa has scored 50 goals in all competitions for Chelsea; 17 more than any other player for the club since his debut.
Costa has scored more Premier League goals this season (13) than in the entire 2015-16 campaign (12).
Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante picked up their 5th bookings of the Premier League season, ruling them out of their next fixture against Bournemouth.
Gary Cahill made his 300th Premier League appearance.
Crystal Palace have kept just one clean sheet in their last 22 Premier League matches.