Chelsea recovered from a dour first-half showing to beat Sheffield United 2-0 at Stamford Bridge and claim back-to-back Premier League home wins for the first time in over a year.
Cole Palmer continued his fine start to life in west London and was the difference for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, knocking in the opening goal from Raheem Sterling’s cut-back early in the second half before crossing for Nicolas Jackson to make it two.
The first half was instantly forgettable as Chelsea laboured without invention when in possession, before the summer signing from Manchester City enhanced his reputation as a match-winner in a team that remains maddeningly inconsistent in the final third.
Pochettino named Christopher Nkunku amongst his substitutes for the first time, and his return to fitness could not have come at a more opportune moment for misfiring Chelsea. Despite the game being effectively won with 30 minutes to play, home fans were made to wait for a glimpse of the player they hope will be their saviour in front of goal.
Chelsea dominated early but carried little threat. Their first sight of goal was a half chance, Conor Gallagher flattening Gustavo Hamer to win possession in midfield and hitting a swinging effort that was fielded with ease by Wes Foderingham.
The visitors were content for the game to be played in front of them, leaving little to no space behind for Sterling and Mykhailo Mudryk to exploit on Chelsea’s flanks.
Mudryk summed up a turgid opening 20 minutes with an audacious nutmeg on Jayden Bogle before spooning a ballooned effort that pitched somewhere near the corner flag.
Djordje Petrovic, on his full Premier League debut, was the first goalkeeper to look truly concerned, the summer arrival from New England Revolution flinging himself at full stretch at Cameron Archer’s ambitious 20-yard effort as it whistled inches wide of the post, as Blades warned of their threat on the counter.
Chelsea had won just once since their buccaneering 4-1 victory at Tottenham in early November, but goals have dried up lately and against Blades in the first half they found their every avenue to goal blocked.
Their preferred route was out wide via Sterling and Mudryk, but when the ball arrived into the box it rarely found a blue shirt. In the centre, Palmer toiled and hunted for the killer pass, yet in the first period was far from his mercurial best with the ball at feet.
Jackson had his side’s best moment of the half, cutting in off the left and beating two defenders before aiming a low shot fractionally wide from the edge of the box. Chelsea had had 80 per cent possession in the opening 45 minutes, from which they mustered a single shot on target.
The goal nine minutes after half-time was greeted more with relief than elation.
Palmer started it, collecting the ball centrally and threading it in to Sterling who stood up his man and, with a burst of acceleration, dashed beyond him.
His cross into the box had pace and whip, and there to meet it was Palmer, continuing his run to knock it past Foderingham for his sixth goal of the season.
Five minutes later it was two, and Palmer again was the architect. A flighted ball in towards the penalty spot caused chaos at the back for Blades, as first Sterling then Gallagher got a touch, the ball spun towards Foderingham who failed to gather, and Palmer cut it back for Jackson to sweep into an empty goal.
Petrovic saved from a Hamer free-kick, diving low to his left to turn the ball behind, that after Sterling had been denied one on one by Foderingham.
Gallagher, influential throughout as the heartbeat of Chelsea’s midfield, drilled one over the bar as the hosts asserted their dominance.
Armando Broja came off the bench and staked a claim for miss of the season, whacking the ball into the Matthew Harding Stand from barely a yard out.
But they had already done enough, as home fans witnessed a victory in the league for just the fifth time in 2023.