A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s victory in South Wales.
This Saturday Chelsea traveled to South Wales for their away Premier League tie against Swansea. It was an encounter between a side trying to halt their recent slide towards the relegation battle and a side returning to winning ways who still harbour hopes of a top 4 finish.
Since the new year, Swansea have registered some impressive results at home, most notably in wins over Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley. However they were on a run of no wins in their previous 5 matches before The Blues’s visit.
Chelsea themselves are starting to show signs of good form after away Premier League victories at Southampton and Burnley, before winning their FA Cup semi final last weekend.
This improvement is exemplified by Antonio Conte’s more animated antics on the touchline, Eden Hazard’s recent phenomenal form and both strikers scoring at Wembley. Chelsea’s defence is looking more resilient, while the emergence of a second quality player on the left flank and Victor Moses’s improved effectiveness on the right have all combined to make them look more like last season’s champions.
With Marcos Alonso sitting out the final match of his suspension, Emerson Palmieri again deputised and once again looked a Chelsea player through and through. His pace, energy and movement is exactly what is required for that role, while his passing and link up play kept their play flowing.
Long term absentees David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu were the only other players not at Conte’s disposal. However, the manager did not keep with the 3-4-3 but opted for a 3-5-2 which he usually prefers when facing stronger opposition. This did mean that Willian was again sacrificed so that Tiemoue Bakayoko could be installed alongside N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas in central midfield.
The manager’s decision appeared to be of genius levels of inspired when it took only 4 minutes for his side to break through and open the scoring. The mercurial Eden Hazard took full advantage of Andy King’s sloppy play by gaining possession and weaving his way forward before picking out Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard’s curling finish was a fitting way to bring up his half century of goals in the Premier League.
After such a strong opening, surely The Blues were going to romp home with a big win. However with slow, predictable attacks and not enough ambition from the midfield 5 to make forward runs through the home defence, Chelsea rarely truly threatened the score sheet again,
Olivier Giroud worked hard as the target man and Hazard constantly played the role of creator rather than finisher. With a front 2 otherwise occupied, the system requires Frank Lampard style forward runs coming from deep. Bakayoko either doesn’t have the belief nor is given the remit to make the required runs, while Fabregas generally sits back in the hope of making the defence splitting passes for such runs.
This resulted in a match which should have and looked like it would have been a relatively comfortable victory for The Blues but turned into a nervous narrow win. Antonio Rudiger and an attempted headed clearance by Alfie Mawson were the closest the away side came to extending the lead, but in the end it was the home side who started to believe that they could get a result.
Conte as usual left his substitutions til the last 10 minutes and reverted back to a 3-4-3 but by then the impetus was with The Swans. Thibaut Courtois was more than a match for all they could muster and the home frustrations boiled over in a ridiculous incident just before the final whistle.
Jordan Ayew deliberately shoulder charged into Gary Cahill’s back instead of running around the Chelsea captain. It was a cynical and callous act committed in full view of referee Jonathan Moss, who chose to do nothing. Cahill tried to play the incident down after the match but it was the sort of act that certain players would be thrown into a Premier League dock and banned for multiple matches.
For Conte and his side these latter season matches are really only about the results and in the league, about getting all 3 points. The win keeps The Blues on course for a most unlikely winning streak that will see them return to the top 4 and qualify for the Champions League. And that is all as fans we can ask for, after all that is now 4 consecutive wins and all away from Stamford Bridge.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue