Chelsea 2-0 Sheff Utd: Palmer and Jackson on target as Chelsea see off Sheffield United

Cole Palmer helped Chelsea secure back-to-back league wins at home for the first time this season with a goal and an assist against Sheffield United. Photograph: Chris Lee/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

This unconvincing win over the worst side in the Premier League may not have arrived had Mauricio Pochettino not reacted to his attack’s repeated ineffectiveness against a low block by altering Cole Palmer’s position after a dire first half, a subtle shift that finally gave Chelsea the possibility to punish Sheffield United with their individual quality.

There was more dynamism with Palmer giving up his initial role as a No 10, Raheem Sterling joining Nicolas Jackson in the middle and Chelsea reconfigured in a 4-4-2 system. For Pochettino, a manager under pressure after two dispiriting defeats, it was important to summon the tactical expertise to stop the game becoming an ordeal. In the end he could be satisfied after a seven-minute burst from Palmer, who broke the deadlock before making Jackson’s goal, carried Chelsea up to 10th place and left Chris Wilder bemoaning the defending that ended United’s limited gameplan.

Even so, this was not a performance that should lure Pochettino into thinking a charge up the table is on the way. Chelsea are still not showing enough aggression on the ball. It has cost them against better sides than United, who remain five points off 17th place after failing to build on beating Brentford, and will probably do so again unless they learn how to blow limited opponents away early on.

“The team in the first half was a little bit frustrated because we didn’t find the way to break the low block,” Pochettino said. “In the second half we fixed different positions and started to find different possibilities. We suffered a lack of aggression in the first half as we made a mistake in the way we tried to penetrate. In the second half we changed the team and found better solutions.”

Chelsea may have been depleted but they were still strong enough to leave their £106.8m midfielder, Enzo Fernández, on the bench until the 69th minute. While Pochettino has talked about wanting more signings in January, he would be pushing it if he claims that depth is an issue.

In truth the real problem for Chelsea during a sterile opening period was their inability to do anything with all their possession. The lowlight, Mykhailo Mudryk nutmegging Jayden Bogle before shooting embarrassingly wide from a ridiculous angle, summed it up. Jackson also found new and interesting ways to stray offside.

Nicolas Jackson doubles Chelsea’s advantage from close range in the second half. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Chelsea were blunt, their threat limited to a couple of efforts from Conor Gallagher and Jackson, who would also fail to reach a pass from Moisés Caicedo before United’s goalkeeper, Wes Foderingham. United, however, lacked ambition. The only scare for Chelsea came when Cameron Archer’s deflected shot flew narrowly wide.

Chelsea began the second half with more urgency. Realising that Vini Souza had stopped Palmer from getting on the ball, Pochettino moved the playmaker to the right and told Sterling and Jackson to stretch the visitors. It soon made a difference. With 54 minutes gone Palmer dropped a shoulder and played a reverse pass to Sterling. He drove down the right, past Andre Brooks and crossed for Palmer to beat Foderingham from close range.

“Just a mad 15 minutes for us at the start of the second half, where our naivety shone through as a young, inexperienced team,” Wilder said. “I thought we were in a good place until half-time. I sensed the feeling inside the ground.”

The tension faded after Chelsea’s opener. Palmer came to life again, dribbling in from the right before Gallagher and Sterling forced their way past some meek challenges. Sterling shot, Foderingham clawed the ball away and Palmer’s cutback gave Jackson a tap-in.

That was pretty much that. United’s reply was limited to Gustavo Hamer testing Djordje Petrovic with a curling free-kick. The goalkeeper, making his full debut with Robert Sánchez injured, responded with a fine leaping save and Chelsea were able to win consecutive home games in the league for the first time since October 2022.