Long, Hard Trek
Wednesday 29th November, Stamford Bridge – Swansea City AFC were in London for their midweek EPL fixture against defending champions Chelsea. The Welsh side were in desperately poor form, having secured just one point and scored only two goals in their last five league games.
Manager Paul Clement said at the weekend, he didn’t believe he would be sacked if his team lost against Bournemouth. They had managed a goalless draw against the Cherries, but his words were eerily similar to Tony Pulis’s, just before West Bromwich Albion lost 4 – 0 to Chelsea – and Mr. Pulis lost his job.
Some of the circumstances were in Swansea’s favour though – Chelsea had just completed a run of three consecutive away games in seven days, including a couple of six-hour flights to and from Azerbaijan for a champions league fixture. The London club also had a relatively lengthy list of players that were either injured, or had just returned from injury, still lacking match fitness. Perhaps Swansea could take advantage.
Chelsea had won four and drawn only one of their last five league games… but it hadn’t brought them any closer to the top of the premier league. Leaders Manchester City had not slowed down or let up. It didn’t matter how tired the Chelsea players were, they simply had to get three points every time they stepped out on the pitch. The holiday period was definitely going to be a long, hard slog for them.
Conte reverted to 3-4-3 for this fixture, with Alvaro Morata, Willian and Pedro in attack. Cesar Azpilicueta had picked up a slight strain during the Liverpool game, and was on the bench tonight. It was the first time he’d failed to start a league game since December 2015. Antonio Rudiger took his place at right center back. David Luiz and Charly Musonda were both sidelined through injury, but Kenedy, Michy Batshuayi and Victor Moses were back in training for Chelsea.
Swansea City’s top scorer Tammy Abraham was ineligible to start against his parent club, but Clement had a pretty good replacement for him in Cote d’Ivoire front man Wilfried Bony. Midfielder Leroy Fer had given Chelsea a few problems last season, but the manager opted to start Bayern Munich loanee Renato Sanches ahead of him for this game.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 7.5, Zappacosta 6 (Moses 3.5), Rudiger 7.5, Christensen 7.5, Cahill 7, Alonso 6, Kante 8, Fabregas 7, Willian 7.5 (Drinkwater 5), Pedro 6.5 (Hazard 5.5), Morata 6.5
Subs Caballero, Luiz, Rudiger, Moses, Fabregas, Willian, Pedro
Fabianski 8, Olsson 6, Mawson 7, van der Hoorn 7, Naughton 6.5, Sung-Yong Ki 7.5, Sanches 4 (Fer 6.5), Carroll 6, Mesa 6 (McBurnie 5), Ayew 6 (Routledge 6.5), Bony 6.5
Subs Nordfeldt, Fer, Rangel, Clucas, Dyer, Rangel, McBurnie
Chelsea dominated the first half from start to finish – they did everything but score. Swansea showed lots of energy and pressed their hosts hard, but whenever Chelsea came forward they packed their penalty area with players, making it difficult to get through.
Willian had the first clear opportunity to open the scoring, when he came close with a free kick, but the ball curled past the post for a goal kick. Davide Zappacosta also had a pretty good chance from the edge of the area, but Fabianski saved and held his shot. Pedro also attempted to a close range shot from an angle, but again the ex-Arsenal keeper proved equal to it.
Pedro had another opportunity from further out on 22 minutes. His shot had a wicked curve on it, but Fabianski saw it all the way and parried out for a corner. Fabregas took the corner, and placed it right on the penalty spot for Alvaro Morata, but he could not generate enough power on his header from that far out, and again it was saved.
Five minutes later Fabregas and Morata connected again – this time it was a cross into the box from open play. Morata volleyed the ball towards goal, but it was a bit too close to the keeper and he knocked it out yet again for a corner.
By the end of the first half Swansea had not managed a single shot on target. N’golo Kante and Chelsea’s center backs – Cahill especially – had combined well to keep Wilfried Bony and Jordan Ayew quiet. And the two forwards weren’t much helped by Renato Sanches, who had done nothing but give the ball away all of the first half. Yet the score was still 0 – 0, and the biggest talking point of the half was Antonio Conte being sent to the stands over comments he’d made to the fourth official.
Fresh Legs, Clear Head
Until nine minutes into the second half. N’golo Kante received possession off a dead ball, on the edge of the area. It was the perfect position to shoot, and he went for it, but his shot pinged off Bony… to Antonio Rudiger, who reacted quickly to power a header off the pitch and into the net.
Lukasz Fabianski had done a great job to that point, but the speed of the deflection and Rudiger’s reaction gave him no chance. He could do nothing but stand there and watch the goal go in.
One Nil Is Still Anyone’s Game
Chelsea continued to control the game and create chances, but could not find a second goal to make the points secure. And as the clock wound down and the Chelsea players tired, Swansea maintained their pressing and began to look more dangerous. Leroy Fer, who’d come on at half time for Sanches, was particularly effective for them. Unfortunately, they lacked the quality in the final third to make their opportunities count.
Victor Moses replaced Zappacosta on 75 minutes, but rather than helping to stabilize the defence, he gave away possession with almost every single pass he made. With just a few minutes left to play Wayne Routledge gave Chelsea a big scare, when he made the perfect cross into the six-yard box for Bony, but the Ivorian striker was a bit too slow to get to the ball and the opportunity was gone.
Got What They Came For
And so, the referee called time on a game that was at least part-way as frustrating for the Chelsea fans to watch, as it must have been exhausting for the Chelsea players to play. Despite controlling the game in almost every sense, they had just barely scraped past a much weaker opponent… but it was a win at the end. The points were in the bag, however they got them.
Final Score Chelsea 1 – 0 Swansea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Express UK
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