Chelsea increased the gap between themselves and fifth-placed Arsenal to five points as N’Golo Kante’s second-half strike earned them victory at Crystal Palace.
Kante scored the only goal of the game in the 51st minute when he broke forward from midfield to convert David Luiz’s throughball.
There were few clear-cut chances as the Blues dominated possession and Palace sat back hoping to catch the opposition on the counter-attack – a tactic which failed to work as Roy Hodgson’s Eagles took 85 minutes to register their first effort. That is now two successive games without a goal.
Chelsea’s Willian came close to scoring with a free-kick that struck the post, and Ross Barkley also hit the woodwork with a hooked effort.
Fourth-placed Blues now have 43 points, one behind City and two behind Spurs. Palace remain in 14th with 19 points.
The Kante of 2018-19 is made up of different spec to previous models. Gone is the role of anchor man in midfield – the ball-winner who would allow other midfielders to make forays into the opposition’s final third.
The remodelled version has been given permission to burst forward from the right of a midfield trio. During a largely nondescript opening 45 minutes, he made two runs into the Palace box – the first resulting in a strike that missed Vicente Guaita’s far post by two feet.
Sarri’s perseverance with the tactic paid off six minutes after the break when Kante grabbed his third goal of the season after again breaking from midfield.
This time it was defender Luiz the provider, with a threaded pass that found the Frenchman whose shot had enough power to beat the hand of the former Valencia keeper.
Willian also went close for the Blues with a free-kick that came off the Palace post, while fellow midfielder Barkley hooked a shot from close range that grazed the woodwork.
It was a competent if unremarkable display from Sarri’s side, but they did not have to break sweat against a lifeless Palace attack.