Chelsea keep pace with 4th-placed Tottenham in their late quest to salvage a Champions League place ahead of next season with a lacklustre 1-0 win over Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. Cesc Fabregas’ early goal was enough for Antonio Conte’s men who weren’t put under much pressure by a struggling Swansea side.
The Blues went on the front foot straight away and were ahead in just under four minutes after Andy King’s loose touch in midfield allowed N’Golo Kante to nip in and dispossess him in the Swansea half. The Frenchman found Eden Hazard who drove towards the edge of the area, twisted and turned his way past Ki Sung-Yeung before poking the ball across the 18-yard box to find Fabregas striding in from the right. With his first touch, the Spaniard gracefully curled his effort past Lukas Fabianski and into the far top corner to notch his 50th Premier League goal. At that point, with an early lead and a 3-man midfield, you felt as if the Blues would be quite happy to shut up shop and take what they had. That’s exactly how the rest of the game panned out.
Swansea struggled to string consecutive passes together and were found wanting in creating chances for the Ayew brothers. They didn’t look too sure at the back either and Alfie Mawson, recently called up the England squad for the first time, almost put it into his own net. Olivier Giroud, starting over Alvaro Morata for the third game in a row, rose to knock down a high ball in the opposition penalty area and Mawson stuck out a desperate leg to prevent Fabregas from latching onto it and the ball bounced off the top of the crossbar and went out for a corner.
The Swans managed to be a bit more adventurous after the break and, with the rain teaming down, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to unsettle their comfortable visitors. Andre Ayew leapt to meet Martin Olsson’s cross but was challenged by Antonio Rudiger and the ball didn’t trouble Thibaut Courtois. The Blues survived that scare but it was the hosts who were perhaps more fortunate not to concede when Cesc Fabregas sent a driven cross towards goal but Victor Moses couldn’t get enough on it to guide it inside the near post and the ball squirmed agonisingly past the upright.
Andre Ayew and Tom Carroll went close for Swansea in their search for an equaliser, both curling their strikes past either post from the edge of the area. Emerson, who had a fine game in Marcos Alonso’s continued absence, surged through the Swansea side but couldn’t muster up enough power to beat Fabianski with his weaker foot. With the game grinding to a halt, Jordan Ayew flew into Gary Cahill after the Chelsea skipper had passed the ball back to his goalkeeper, catching him heavily on his upper back with his elbow in a deliberate foul. The shock and power of the impact made Cahill’s neck bolt and the Englishman was lucky to come away unscathed while Ayew somehow received no punishment from the referee.
The final whistle sounded, much to the relief of Antonio Conte, and the game against Liverpool next Sunday holds increased significance given the Reds’ draw with Stoke. The Blues are still hunting down Tottenham and Liverpool and their good form is showing promising signs of an unlikely comeback after a dreadful February and March.