Chelsea's squad system forces many managers to concentrate on more mundane virtues

Crystal Palace 0 Chelsea 3;
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Proof that we now have a two-tiered - even a three-tiered - Premiership was offered in the shape of a crumpled piece of blue paper Steve Coppell produced from a trouser pocket. Chelsea's team sheet featured Zola, Vialli and Di Matteo on the bench. What else could the Crystal Palace manager be but philosophical? "There's the difference for you," he said.

The squad system now in full swing at Chelsea and elsewhere in the Premier League forces Coppell and many of his contemporaries to concentrate on more mundane virtues: maximum effort, ball-winning and team spirit. "Being realistic, it's the only way we can hope to compete," he said.

Palace could not be faulted on commitment so the fact that a six- or seven-goal haul would not have exaggerated the extent of Chelsea's technical superiority is sure to make for difficulties in training-ground analysis. Not back to square one after three home defeats, but keep on battling.

Coppell felt that if Palace could get at Chelsea in the air, where they are thought to be weakest, it might even things up but the trouble was that the home side kept giving the ball away, a discouraging fault when the opposition make the most of possession.

Football is more about players than systems, but in this instance the preferred options had a great deal to do with the outcome. In choosing to play with wing backs and three central defenders Palace were frequently outnumbered in midfield, unable to cope with Chelsea's intelligent movement.

You had to wonder what Attilio Lombardo made of it all. Along with Zola, Vialli and Di Matteo he too had made the long journey back from Georgia, but Palace could not afford to rest him. "It wasn't possible," Coppell added. "That really is the difference. But I've just got to get on with it. I can't walk away from the job again."

It was not long before it became clear that Palace would need a great deal of good fortune to avoid humiliation. Begining brightly enough to cause anxiety in Chelsea's defence, they were soon being overrun in midfield, where Dennis Wise had another fine match to support Ruud Gullit's belief that Glenn Hoddle should at least find a squad place for him.

There are flaws in Frank Leboeuf's game but passing, long and short, is not one of them. In the 20th minute he picked out Mark Hughes with a 30-yarder and the Welshman put Chelsea ahead with a fine volley.

Leboeuf was involved again six minutes later, putting Chelsea further ahead with a penalty kick that resulted from clumsy attempts to stop a move that began when he exchanged passes with Michael Duberry. Wise took it up, Hughes became involved and finally Dan Petrescu was almost through when he was hauled down.

Bewildering stuff, all too much for Palace, who might easily have been six goals down when Graeme Le Saux got Chelsea's third, driving a shot in off the inside of Kevin Miller's right-hand post.

Afterwards, Gullit sounded like a man who had just returned from a walk in the autumn sunshine. During the next month Chelsea have two European ties against Slovan Bratislava and league matches against Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle and Liverpool.

If this is finding-out time Gullitt accommodates it happily. Meaning no disrespect to Palace, he said after the game: "It's important that you beat the smaller teams. They can make the most difficult matches. But we are getting better and better.

"It's no longer about having a team but 20 or 25 players. Today we had two youngsters, Paul Hughes and Mark Nicholls, who looked as though they had been in since the start of the season. We can change to suit the circumstances."

For Coppell it is a different story, but, encouragingly for Palace, he appears to be as relaxed as Gullit in his manner. The way things are today for most clubs in the Premier League it really is the only sensible way for a manager to go about his business.

Goals: M Hughes (20) 0-1; Leboeuf (26, pen) 0-2; Le Saux (90) 0-3.

Crystal Palace (5-3-2): Miller; Muscat (Zohar, 74), Tuttle, Roberts, Linighan, Gordon; Fullarton, Emblen (Veart, 83), Lombardo; Dyer (Freedman, 55), Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Hreidarsson.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; P Hughes, Duberry, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Wise, Petrescu, Nicholls, Poyet; Flo, M Hughes. Substitutes not used: Vialli, Hitchcock (gk), Di Matteo, Granville, Zola.

Referee: G R Ashby (Worcester). Bookings: Crystal Palace: Tuttle, Muscat. Chelsea: M Hughes, Poyet.

Attendance: 26,186. Man of the match: Wise.