Chelsea secure nervy 3-1 win against Swansea as Fabregas shines in rare start
Chelsea go 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League table after a nervy 3-1 win against a resurgent Swansea City.
Fabregas opened the scoring before Llorente equalised on the stroke of half-time, but it took the hosts a while to put the game to bed before Pedro and Costa wrapped things up in the final 20 minutes.
Swansea have only won one of 11 previous Premier League games against Chelsea, whilst the Antonio Conte’s Blues had won 14 of their 15 home matches, but the game hinged on a controversial call with the game delicately poised at 1-1 when Cesar Azpilicueta looked like he handled the ball in the area.
Regardless, Conte will not care one bit as his side go marching on, with second-placed Manchester City not playing their match in hand this weekend.
It was a fast Chelsea start and all blue for the opening 25 minutes. Pedro, who holds the record for this season’s fastest goal scored with his opener against Manchester United after 30 seconds, nearly recorded another quickfire goal in the opening minute, finding his way through the Swansea back-line.
Bar the odd chance for Fernandez from a Sigurdsson corner, which woke Luiz up as the Brazilian forgot his marking duties, most of the play was at the other end.
A Hazard counter saw Costa flank him on the right and Alonso support on the left, but whilst Alonso was in more better space, the Belgian opted to find the striker’s feet, who let him down, dallied too long and eventually took the ball out for a goal-kick.
Hazard then took matters into his own hands, cutting inside but was closed down, before Fabregas tried his luck from the ricochet but it was blocked legitimately, despite hitting the arm of a Swansea defender in the melee.
Fabregas was justifying his inclusion in the starting XI already with his quarterback-style passing, but it got a whole lot better after 19 minutes when he bundled the ball into the back of the net on his 300th Premier League appearance, the first Spaniard to reach this mark, and what a way to celebrate the feat.
Pedro did most of the hard work on the right and could feed either Fabregas or Costa on the edge of the box. Midfielder got in front of the striker, much to Costa’s annoyance, but it was short-lived as two touches later Fabregas cleverly bundled the ball from underneath his feet to pass Fabianski.
The Swans have only kept two clean sheets in their last 31 Premier League away games, and the goal did not help their visible shaking.
Costa was fortunately to get away with a handball before he had a shot, and when Moses kept the ball in play, Fabregas hit the ball into the ground and it looked destined to loop over into the net but Fabianski clawed away superbly.
The full-back pairing Olsson and Naugthon both soon picked up yellow cards for cynical lystopping Hazard and Moses respectively from countering, and from the ensuing Fabregas corner, Cahill and Costa both got in each other’s way as the presentable opportunity faded.
Then nearly came a quite superb solo goal by Pedro. Picking the ball up from within his own half, the Spaniard jinxed his way past seven Swansea men, but just as he was about to pull the trigger a last-ditch block forced a corner instead.
With one injury time added by fourth official Lee Probert, but nearly two played, referee Neil Swarbrick awarded a soft free-kick from which Chelsea paid, but nothing could be taken away from the execution. A floated ball by Sigurdsson saw Llorente, who Conte managed at Juventus, rise tallest and evade Moses, as Courtois was rooted to the spot.
The Icelandic midfielder has now been directly involved in 17 Premier League goals this season, more than any other midfielder, and it meant Chelsea have now conceded a goal in four consecutive league matches for the first time this season, as they had to settle for going into the break honours even.
Would the second half provide more entertainment?
Hazard was early to sting the hands of Fabianski, whilst Fabregas was proving to be a menace all day and whacked the crossbar after taking a shot first time from the edge of the penalty area.
Azpilicueta was one lucky man to get away with a handball appeal, whilst Neil Swarbrick was equally unmoved when Costa went down in the penalty area at the other end, although the crime committed at this end was much less obvious.
They say luck balances itself out, but a penny for Paul Clement’s thoughts as, in this game at least, Chelsea edged their noses in front straight after. Fabregas this time turned provider, with Pedro the goalscorer, curling one in with his left foot, despite it being a save you would have expected Fabianski to make.
Diego Costa has scored seven goals in his four Premier League games against Swansea so it was not too long to wait before he joined the fun and games, finishing off proceedings after an excellent assist by Hazard, as Chelsea go marching on 11 points clear.
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Man of the Match
CESC FABREGAS: The man has not had much of a look-in in Conte’s settled Chelsea side, but whenever called upon the Spaniard always delivers. Under the watchful eye of Frank Lampard, Fabregas, on his 300th Premier League appearance, delivered a midfield masterclass Lampard would have been proud of, as he guided his side to three points with a goal and an assist, and an all-round big influence on the game. 8/10
Conte felt overall his side deserved the win: “For sure we dominated the game. We played very well, it was a good performance and we created many chances to score. Now it is important to continue in this way. To look at ourselves and to think to win, to continue with great focus and concentration.”
Clement knew his side was on the end of some bad luck: “There was a big moment with the handball [by Cesar Azpilicueta at 1-1]. That gives you a chance to go 2-1 up with a penalty but three minutes later you’re 2-1 down after a soft goal. Based on chances they deserved to win, but that was a big moment that did not go our way, and who knows what might have happened?”