Wednesday 17 October 2018

Chelsea ramp up push for Champions League place

Swansea City 0 Chelsea 1

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard runs at the Swansea City defence during his side’s victory at the Liberty Stadium yesterday. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard runs at the Swansea City defence during his side’s victory at the Liberty Stadium yesterday. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

Stuart James

It was a piece of brilliance that provided the defining moment of the game, keeping alive Chelsea's hopes of a top-four finish and delivering another blow to Swansea's survival prospects on a day that finished with Southampton breathing down their necks. Cesc Fàbregas was the scorer, racking up 50 Premier League goals in style, yet it was the artistry from Eden Hazard that went before that caught the eye.

Swansea contributed to their own downfall in the build-up to that goal and were unable to repair the damage as Chelsea collected a fourth straight victory. The home side came alive in the final 20 minutes, and desperately pressed for an equaliser, yet they were left empty-handed, leaving them one point above the relegation zone with three games remaining.

There was plenty at stake for both clubs, all the more so because of results earlier in the day. Stoke did Chelsea a favour by holding Liverpool to a goalless draw while Southampton's victory over Bournemouth cranked up the pressure on Swansea at the other end of the table.

The apprehension among the home supporters before kick-off was tangible and the sight of Swansea conceding early, after carelessly giving away the ball deep inside their own half, did nothing to help the mood. Andy King was culpable, the Welshman allowing a routine pass to slip under his foot in an area where Swansea were always going to be vulnerable once Chelsea seized possession.

N'Golo Kanté pounced and fed Hazard, who pirouetted away from Ki Sung-yueng with a lovely turn before running at the heart of the Swansea defence. All eyes were looking to Hazard's left, expecting the Belgian to release the ball in that area, but instead he played an exquisite reverse pass in the opposite direction that bamboozled several defenders and picked out Fàbregas. What followed was just as impressive as Fàbregas, without breaking his stride, swept a glorious first-time left-foot shot that nestled in the top corner. It was ruthless and brilliant.

Hazard, it soon became clear, was in the mood, enjoying playing in the pocket of space that opened up behind Olivier Giroud and causing Swansea no end of problems whenever he got hold of the ball. Another lovely pass from him later in the first half released Victor Moses, whose low, inviting centre ran across the six-yard box with no Chelsea player able to get a touch.

Swansea City's Jordan Ayew clashes with Chelsea's Gary Cahill. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Swansea City's Jordan Ayew clashes with Chelsea's Gary Cahill. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

Swansea looked anxious, with the sight of Alfie Mawson stretching to toe-poke the ball on to the top of his own bar symptomatic of the sort of panic that Chelsea caused whenever they attacked.

At the other end, the home side offered little before the break. Carlos Carvalhal once again opted for a three-man central defence and that meant Swansea lacked bodies further forward. There was no width in the attacking areas and so much seemed to hinge on Jordan Ayew creating something out of nothing. On one of the few occasions when the Swansea striker did wriggle clear, he was brought down by Kanté on the edge of the penalty area. Yet referee Jonathan Moss gave the free-kick in the opposite direction, enraging the home fans.

There was more urgency about Swansea early in the second half as they snapped into tackles and started to play with a bit more courage and belief. Martin Olsson's cross from wide on the left was met by André Ayew but Antonio Rüdiger, climbing alongside him, did just enough to prevent the forward from heading the ball cleanly enough to keep it under the bar.

Chelsea, however, continued to look reasonably comfortable. Kanté was his usual indefatigable self in the middle of the pitch, Chelsea's three-man central defence, marshalled by Gary Cahill, rarely looked flustered and there was a menacing feel about the visitors whenever they got the ball to Hazard.

Swansea City's Andre Ayew in action with Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Swansea City's Andre Ayew in action with Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

Carvalhal knew that he had to change something but with no striker on the bench - Wilfried Bony is on the long-term injury list and Tammy Abraham was ineligible against his parent club - his options were limited. On came Nathan Dyer and Tom Carroll, yet the pattern of the game remained the same as Swansea huffed and puffed.

Finally, there was a flurry of chances. Emerson, accepting the invitation to run to the edge of the Swansea area, saw his low shot saved by Lukasz Fabianski, although it was Swansea who now started to look more dangerous.

Jordan Ayew headed over after Thibaut Courtois was unable to punch clear, André Ayew curled narrowly wide and Kyle Naughton unleashed a powerful shot from 25 yards that the Chelsea keeper held. Carroll then clipped a shot just past the far post and Wayne Routledge shot straight at Courtois.

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