A routine home win courtesy of an anything but routine source. When Chelsea shelled out £34m for Antonio Rudiger in July they did so not for his goalscoring prowess. But when your club record signing is having an off day and your star man is only waiting in the wings sometimes you need another to take centre stage and Rudiger was that on a bitingly-chilly evening at Stamford Bridge, a first Premier League goal enough for a precious three points.
Manager Antonio Conte wasn’t around to see it, however, the always fiery Italian having a night to forget of his own but the Blues hung on stay on the pace in the top four and title races.
The match began on a sombre note, the stadium standing as one to honour the late Dermot Drummy, a much-loved former coach here, who tragically died on Monday. Chelsea were soon into their stride, however, and despite the absence of Eden Hazard, given a breather after his dazzling display at Anfield at the weekend, started on the front foot, beginning an aerial assault which would, eventually at the umpteenth time of asking, batter the visitors into submission.
Even without Cesar Azpilicueta, rested to snap a 74-game streak of successive league starts, Chelsea’s intentions were clear from the outset. Davide Zappacosta and Marcos Alonso, given the freedom of both flanks by a meek Swansea defence, whipped ball after ball into the box, Morata waiting menacingly for any scraps on which to feed. Willian teased while Pedro, operating in Hazard’s usual left sided spot, probed.
It seemed only a matter of time for the south Welsh dam to break but it continued to hold, if not remotely firmly. Morata tested the ever busy Lukasz Fabianski with an improvised volley before Alonso snatched at a presentable chance from 18-yards.
If crossing was the game’s theme on the pitch then Conte’s increased incredulity at fourth official Lee Mason was the growing one off it. Even before his 43rd-minute dismissal the Italian had grown more and more livid at what he perceived to be the gratuitous time-wasting efforts of the visitors. When a clear deflection behind from Alfie Mawson’s outstretched leg was awarded as a goal kick, enough was enough. Conte exploded and Neil Swarbrick sent him on his way.
Swansea’s draw with Bournemouth halted a four-match losing run but this remains a poor side and a lack of cutting edge belied by only three away goals all season was all too clear to see here with captain Wilfried Bony a willing but far too isolated figure up front all night long.
Renato Sanches paid the price for his side’s paucity in attack, the Portuguese summer signing hooked at the break after an AWOL 45 minutes. Conte, now in absentia, could have been forgiven for making a change of his own at the break, especially given the options available to him on his bench, but he was soon rewarded for his patience just 10 minutes after the interval.
Another ball from wide was cut inside from the right to N’Golo Kante whose shot was deflected into the path of Rudiger who couldn’t miss. The resistance was broken. Chelsea were ahead.
The floodgates looked ready to fly open, Alonso first side-footing too close to Fabianski before Morata twice should’ve done better with a close-range header and minutes later a one-on-one scooped harmlessly over.
A second goal could well have finished the Swans, but instead of rolling over they redoubled their efforts with Jordan Ayew and half-time introduction Leroy Fer finally giving Bony the company in the final third he craved so often earlier on.
Victor Moses made his long-awaited return after a lengthy lay-off, before Danny Drinkwater and man of the moment Hazard also entered the fray to sure up the points. Morata, enduring one of those nights that even the greats have, swung and missed at two more glimpses as the hosts failed to add the cushion their dominance deserved, but Conte, deep within the bowels of Bridge, won’t have cared a jot. The Blues are back to winning ways and still in the hunt.
Chelsea: Courtois, Rudiger, Christensen, Cahill, Zappacosta (Moses 75), Fabregas, Kante, Alonso, Willian (Drinkwater 81) , Pedro (Hazard 81), Morata.
Unused subs: Caballero, Bakayoko, Azpilicueta, Ampadu.
Swansea: Fabianski, Naughton, van der Hoorn, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Roque (McBurnie 65), Carroll, Sanches (Fer 45), Bony, Ayew (Routledge 84).
Unused subs: Dyer, Nordfeldt, Clucas, Rangel.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)
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