Stop me if you've heard this one before: Chelsea comfortably outplay their vastly inferior opponents but fail to turn their myriad chances into an extended leave, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats until the final whistle. The team that we failed to kill off on Boxing Day were the continually overrated Swansea City, who came to Stamford Bridge with minimal attacking intent and minimal defensive competence and managed to escape with a respectable 1-0 loss.
Obviously, getting all three points is the important thing, and Eden Hazard's first-half goal and then some decent defending (two clean sheets in a row! Woo!) ensured that we managed to get the points and grab second place for a few hours. But the fact that Mike Jones blowing for full time came as a relief is cause for concern -- the Swans should have been blown off the park today, and they weren't.
By the time Hazard put us 1-0 up Chelsea had had half a dozen corners and enough shots to have won the game. Oscar was instrumental in keeping the visitors on the back foot, the Brazilian demonstrating the qualities which ensure that he remains a favourite of Jose Mourinho and the Stamford Bridge faithful with some absolutely immense tackling, but he too was wasteful in front of goal, miscontrolling a tenth-minute Hazard pass and letting the ball run to Gerhard Tremmel.
There were more chances, and more misses. Ashley Williams blocked a Branislav Ivanovic shot. Jose Canas blocked a Branislav Ivanovic shot. John Terry slammed a cross from Oscar into the ground and then saw his shot tipped over by Tremmel after the bounce. Then John Obi Mikel failed to attack a knockback and allowed Williams to punt clear with the ball virtually on the goalline.
Then Hazard struck. Ashley Cole, making his first league start since the 2-0 loss against Newcastle at St. James' Park, made an interception just inside the Chelsea half, immediately firing upfield to the Belgian. Jordi Amat had no idea how to handle him, getting half-turned and then left behind as Hazard worked space to shoot. It wasn't a great shot, but Williams' attempted clearance ended up unsighting Tremmel, and so the ball ended up in the back of the net.
Tremmel made another error mere minutes later, allowing Samuel Eto'o to block a clearance, but Swansea got a lucky bounce and the goalkeeper was able to fall onto the loose ball before Oscar arrived on the scene. He then redeemed himself by saving well from Eto'o after a wondrous, wondrous pass from Juan Mata set the striker through on goal -- the shot was mishit, but it would have found the net if not for a very nice stop.
Swansea were offering next to nothing going forward. They did manage a half-chance when Jonjo Shelvey's attempted header at goal instead fell to Alvaro Vasquez, suckering the entire Chelsea defence out of the way in the process, but Vasquez's effort was poor and would have gone over for a goal kick had Petr Cech not helped the ball over the crossbar.
Halftime came. Halftime went. And within fifteen seconds of the restart, we should have been 2-0 up. David Luiz played a long pass forward to Mata, who evaded the attention of the visiting defence and fizzed a cross into the six yard box. With Amat and Williams helpless, all that was left for Eto'o to do was to volley past Tremmel from five yards. Instead, he hit it right at the goalkeeper.
That was to prove the last of Chelsea's big chances. Perhaps buoyed by the fact that they were only down by one goal -- or perhaps in a vain attempt to get something from the match -- Swansea finally did some attacking. But since it was Swansea, that just meant that their stodgy posession play moved into our half rather than theirs. No threat was offered, and the defence dealt well with their whenever they got into remotely threatening positions.
But the mere fact that they had the potential to deprive us of two points with one touch or one mistake was deeply concerning. Being on the back foot (and, like at Arsenal, wasting opportunities to hit our opponents on the counterattack thanks to some very dubious decision making -- I'm looking at you, Ramires) for most of the second half was stressful, even if Swansea were poor.
And that pressure did end up costing the Blues in the form of a yellow card for Ramires. He'd been walking the line for some time before Mike Jones took his name for a foul on Wilfried Bony, a booking that'll see him ruled out for the weekend's encounter with Liverpool. Fortunately, that was the only repercussion of our inability to put the game to bed and relax.
It's a win and we'll take it, but Chelsea still aren't at their best.