Supporters who traveled to Stamford Bridge Wednesday night may have expected a lively Chelsea performance against a Swansea City side that have been struggling this season. That didn’t happen, as Chelsea were clearly not at their best, but managed to come away with a 1-0 win over the Swans through Antonio Rudiger’s second-half goal.
This was not a vintage performance by the home side, and it seemed like the long trip to Azerbaijan just a week ago coupled with a trip to Anfield last Saturday began to wear on the Chelsea players.
Clearly Antonio Conte sensed this as well, giving Eden Hazard a rare night on the substitutes bench and resting Cesar Azpilicueta who has been ever-present in this Chelsea side.
But despite a dominating performance in possession and shots, in truth, Chelsea seemed to lack a bit of sharpness in the final third. In fact, Chelsea’s best chances in the first half came from corners. Alvaro Morata had two chances from headers, one flying over the bar and one saved down low by Lukasz Fabianski, and Pedro saw a curling effort parried wide by the Swansea keeper after more work from a corner kick.
Morata nearly scored one of the goals of the season when he tried an overhead volley from a Cesc Fabregas cross and forced a good save from Fabianski.
Frustration began to mount, and Conte was sent to the stands after repeatedly complaining to the fourth official Lee Mason over perceived time wasting tactics and a corner that wasn’t awarded to his side.
Swansea offered very little in attack in the first half, and manager Paul Clement made his first change at the half, withdrawing Renato Sanches, who had an abysmal first 45 minutes of giving the ball away, and introducing Leroy Fer.
Swansea looked a bit more solid as a unit after Fer entered the match, but Chelsea began to step up the pace and intensity.
If Sanches was Swansea’s worst player on the night, Alfie Mawson was most certainly their best. As wave after wave of Chelsea pressure began to pin back the Swans, Mawson was excellent in making sure the onslaught of crosses from wide areas were cleared away.
But Swansea finally succumbed to the pressure, though via a small slice of luck. Chelsea finally struck from one of their many corners in the match when a short corner was worked to N’Golo Kante. Kante’s shot from the edge of the area struck the head of Wilfried Bony and deflected to Rudiger at the back post who headed in to give Chelsea the lead.
There was a sense that a second Chelsea goal was coming, and just a minute later, a shot from Pedro from outside the area looped up into the air and landed at the feet of Marcos Alonso just inside the penalty area, but he couldn’t sort out his feet and his shot was deflected away from goal.
Morata nearly scored another header when Fabregas lofted a free kick to the back post, but Fabianski was able to push the shot over the bar.
It took 65 minutes for Swansea to record their first shot of the match when Fer fired a shot high and wide from 30 yards out that landed in the Shed.
Chelsea’s play began to get a little ragged and Swansea began to gain a little confidence. In the 88th minute, Swansea should have found an equaliser when Wayne Routledge’s curling cross just drifted too far in front of Wilfried Bony who was unmarked at the back post.
An equaliser would have been a bit cruel on Chelsea, considering their dominance of possession, but Conte and Chelsea supporters alike will feel that this match should have been wrapped up long before that moment.
However, three points is three points, and it’s another victory for Chelsea during a very congested part of the season.