Chelsea came away from south Wales with a vital three points in their pursuit of the top four. With Liverpool dropping more points earlier in the day, and Chelsea hosting them next weekend as well as having a match in hand over the team from Merseyside, it is now possible to draw level on points with them if we can beat them at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Unfortunately, Liverpool have a vastly superior goal difference, so in all likelihood we still require them to draw one of their final two fixtures as well. Tottenham are two points ahead of us with a game in hand at home to Watford on Monday.
With Swansea in deeper trouble than they were before kick off after Southampton’s earlier win, their lack of pressure in the first half was somewhat surprising. They matched our 3-5-2 shape, but we were afforded a lot of space in midfield, and with Fabregas present, that it always dangerous. This was exenterated by Hazard, who partnered Giroud up front, dropping off untracked into space between the lines. This triumvirate were the source of Swansea’s pain in the first half.
We took an early lead as Swansea lost the ball in midfield after playing out from the back, and Kante picked up the loose ball before finding Hazard. He charged at the backline before touching it right to Fabregas, untracked in the inside right position he curled it first time around the keeper from the edge of the area to give us the lead.
Things got no better for Swansea throughout the half as they struggled to retain possession or pose any sort of threat. Chelsea on the other hand were making the most of the space afforded, and Hazard in particular was a constant danger as he continued to find space between the lines. He was linking brilliantly with Giroud and Fabregas. There was some fantastic one touch play between the trio, but the final ball was preventing an extension of the lead. Even with two spare centre halves against Giroud, the Swansea back three were reluctant to come out to the Belgian. Fabregas found him in space, before he played wide to Moses on the left. His low cross just evaded Giroud in the box. Shortly after Moses was again the outlet, this time cutting in to shoot. It deflected wide for a corner. From that Giroud got a slight touch on the in swinger, but it flew across the face.
The second half saw a rejuvenated Swansea. Particularly after the introduction of Nathan Dyer brought about a switch to 4-3-3. This left Chelsea on the back foot. The three-man midfield of Bakayoko, Fabregas and Kante now had to shuffle side to side to cover the full backs as Emerson and Moses were now pinned back by Andre Ayew and Dyer. This meant that we couldn’t press the Swansea midfield higher up the pitch. Therefore, Swansea were able to take the initiative. Courtois dealt with a couple of shots straight at him from Jordan Ayew and Naughton respectively. There was now more of a threat from crosses as Swansea made better use of the width in this half. For the most part these were dealt with well by a back three of Cahill flanked by Azpilicueta and Rudiger. Jordan Ayew did have a good headed chance from a Dyer cross from the left however, but he couldn’t keep it down. Courtois flapped at a corner, and Jordan Ayew again got on the end of it, but it just evaded the far angle.
Chelsea still looked dangerous in transition as we had in the first half. Swansea to often leaving little cover for their backline as they pushed on. Emerson broke with Hazard making a decoy run to take away a defender, the Brazilian ran on diagonally across the pitch, but his near post shot once he made it to the box lacked pace.
Conte had seen enough of the increasing Swansea pressure, and changed to 3-4-3 with ten minutes remaining to counteract the earlier Swansea switch. Willian and Pedro came on for Fabregas and Hazard, while Morata followed five minutes later.
Moses again was a creative force going forward. He put another good ball in towards Azpilicueta who had advanced, but it was cut out. Azpilicueta had made his customary advance forward to cross into the box just prior to this. Giroud couldn’t get on the end of it at the far post. The Chelsea changes had an impact, but the second half belonged to the home side. Carroll and Routledge had come on earlier, and Carroll found Andre Ayew on the edge of the box, and he shot narrowly wide. Five minutes before time Carroll himself bent a shot inches wide from range. Chelsea came closest late on through Moses, he didn’t know much about it as the ball came in low from the left and he got across his man at the near post, but the ball span agonisingly wide.
A stressful watch in the second half particularly, but Chelsea deserved the win as a result of exploiting the weaknesses in Swansea’s tactics. The possibility of Champions league football that looked dead in the water after defeat at home to Tottenham, has now been revived. While still a tough task, there is now hope that we can return to Europe’s premier club competition next season. Next weekends match against Liverpool is vital, as are all our remaining matches now.
Swansea (3-5-2) 0
Fabianski; Naughton, Van Der Hoorn, Mawson;
Roberts, (Carroll 63) Ki, King, (Dyer 58), Clucas, Olsson, (Routledge 81)
Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew.
Chelsea (3-5-2) 1 (Fabregas, 4)
Courtois; Azpilicuata, Cahill ©, Rudiger;
Moses, Fabregas, (Pedro 81), Kante, Bakayoko, Emerson;
Hazard, (Willian 81), Giroud, (Morata 85)