Demba Ba scored the crucial goal as Chelsea ground out a hard-fought 1-0 win at Swansea.
The Senegalese man’s goal in the 68th minute kept Chelsea in the title race, still two points behind leaders Liverpool, who host the Blues in a fortnight’s time.
It will surely go down as the title decider with Liverpool seeing off Manchester City earlier in the day, much to Chelsea’s relief, and the Blues knew what they needed to do here in Wales.
They got a helping hand from Chico Flores, who made two cynical fouls in the opening exchanges and his afternoon only lasted 16 minutes, with Phil Dowd, despite much thought, showing him two yellow cards in quick succession.
It was a situation where many referees may have bottled it, or used the fact it was so early in the game as some irrational justification, but the facts were there: two tactical fouls prevented Chelsea marching in on Swansea’s goal and he had to go.
Chelsea, however, were sure slow to take full advantage of their superior numbers.
Frequently did the visitors prowl and pass their way around the Swansea half, but without real penetration or conviction in the final ball. Demba Ba, who was rewarded for his winning goal against PSG mid-week with a first league start since October today, was in good spirits and held the ball up well, but with little support. The 28-year-old also had opportunities with his head but little was to work for Chelsea in the first half.
And so the double substitution. Mourinho, an acclaimed tactician, could wait no more and Oscar and Eto’o were to enter the fray for the second half.
Now boasting a two-man attack, it gave Ashley Williams and the Swansea back-line more to contend with.
It nearly worked a treat within three minutes, when some dodgy defending in the Swansea box saw the ball fall kindly at Eto’o’s feet. Perhaps caught out by his luck, the Cameroonian punted it wide from a glorious, central position.
Swansea were more and more set up for a counter-attack and they had their chance when Routledge ran through. Terry slipped as he attempted to lunge at the ball but it turned out to be fortuitous: had the captain’s shoulder not been in the way, it may have nestled into the back of the net.
Swansea has so far dealt with all sorts of problems but ironically could not deal with a throw-in from Chelsea’s own half. Azpilicueta’s throw to Matic was harmless, but the Serbian’s lob to Ba instantly caught Swansea out. Two or three touches later to bamboozle Williams and Vorm was beaten too.
The roars from Swansea had deafened and it was the Chelsea fans singing in relief more than euphoria. Mikel came on for Ba to shut up shop and Chelsea did just that to claim three precious points.
Man of the Match
NEMANJA MATIC: It will be Demba Ba making the headlines for his goal, especially having been so patient as a peripheral figure for Chelsea this season, but a word must go to Matic for a fantastic outing. It was he who spotted Ba’s run to claim the assist, but the Serbian’s all-round defending, strength, hold-up play and wonderful foot-work to weave his, and his team’s, way out of trouble was well-needed against a possession-loving side like Swansea. 8/10
Steve Holland was handed the media duties but the message was clear: the result was the most important thing: “We played in the Champions League in the week, and it was a physically and emotionally draining game. It was difficult to go again, but we stuck to it and came through. Swansea can frustrate you. They’re good at retaining possession. They got everybody behind the ball every minute of the game. We had to find a way through.”
Gary Monk was defiant especially with Swansea just three points above the relegation zone: “We didn’t get the result [but] I can’t complain about the performance after going down to 10 so early. My players were brilliant, and the crowd were magnificent too. We’re not safe. Two more wins will probably do it for us.”