Chelsea took a giant leap towards Champions League qualification with a dull, uninspiring, but ultimately crucial victory over Swansea. There are no small steps at this stage of the season; every point matters. The three points gained on Saturday leave us just two points behind Spurs, who are busy dealing with other sensitive stuff at the moment. You know what I mean. The win was also the 50th of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea career, making him the third fastest to reach this particular milestone.
Anyway, here are the talking points from a 1-0 victory at the Liberty Stadium.
#1 The 3-5-2
Antonio Conte did not play both senior strikers together, but this was essentially a 3-5-2 formation. Eden Hazard was afforded the freedom to play behind Olivier Giroud, which he exploited to its full extent. Giroud tried all he could but he did not get the kind of chances you would expect Chelsea to create. He cut an exasperated figure by the time he was substituted late in the game. In midfield, Bakayoko had a decent game, even though he did not really grab it by the scruff of the neck. That will come eventually. At least he wasn’t abysmal, which can be called progress in a sense. Fabregas was awarded the Man Of the Match trophy, which was fair, considering he scored the only goal of a drab game. In defence, Andreas Christensen continued his recent absence, allowing Gary Cahill to stake a claim for a late run at the England selection.
#2 The Cahill Redemption
Some might consider Christensen being left out as Conte’s lack of faith in the youngster after a few costly mistakes. However – and put on your tinfoil hat for this – I think it has more to do with Conte trying to get Cahill on the plane to Russia. The English defence scene (not to be confused with an obnoxious entity with a similar name) has not really improved a lot since the last European championship. Despite the emergence of promising young players in the lower reaches of the Premier League, none of them can boast the big game experience and calming influence (stop sniggering) of Gary Cahill. And if his recent performances are anything to go by, Gareth Southgate could get some use out of Cahill in Russia. He was rather good against Swansea too, with a late game-saving tackle causing the home fans to erupt in an uproar. It was a clean tackle, although you couldn’t blame the fans for thinking the referee had stitched them up.
#3 The Referee’s A “Banker”
Early on in the game, the home supporters were feeling hard done by, with a large percentage of decisions going against them. After ironic cheers when Swansea did get a decision, the crowd turned to an old favourite chant, “The referee’s a chronic masturbator” although the last two words were replaced by something more crude. The travelling Chelsea supporters could be forgiven for joining in, so atrocious was Jon Moss’ refereeing in the game. The lowlight of his performance arrived at the death, when Jordan Ayew channelled his inner WWE wrestler and pulled off a clothesline on Gary Cahill from behind. Such was the impact that Cahill’s head bobbled a couple of times before he fell flat on the ground, holding his head. The referee, who had an excellent view of the incident, took no action. Everyone knows refereeing is a difficult job, but when stuff like this goes unpunished, it only serves to remove any sympathy one might feel for the man in the middle.
#4 Emerson Excels
Oh, this guy is good. There weren’t too many outstanding performances, but Emerson’s dribbling really caught the eye. He is tricky, not afraid to take on the opposing winger and can do more with the ball under pressure than simply hoofing it away from his goal. It may have taken a long time for us to see what he can do, but it was worth the wait. The best part about him is, no one seems to be missing Marcos Alonso. If Alonso goes back to Spain in the summer, Chelsea could already have a replacement in Emerson.
#5 Fab 50
It was only the fourth minute in the game when Cesc Fabregas ran on to a clever ball from Eden Hazard and without taking another touch, curled the ball into the Swansea goal with his left foot. That goal took him to 50 Premier League goals, which is truly remarkable. He became only the third Spanish player, after Fernando Torres and Diego Costa, to achieve this feat. More impressively, Fabregas is now just the fourth player in Premier League history to notch 50 goals and more than 100 assists. Astounding figures, you’d agree. Although this season has not been very good, Fabregas will certainly add to his tally of goals and assists if he stays beyond the season. I, for one, would welcome it.
Chelsea play Liverpool next in the Premier League. The Reds will be tough opponents, but a win would see Chelsea within touching distance of the top four. That should set the cat amongst the pigeons.