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Chelsea fail to ignite against Swansea as title defence begins with draw

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When two different Chelsea goalkeepers concede in one day, you have a pretty solid idea that said day won't have gone very well. With that as our starting point, then, a 2-2 home draw against Swansea doesn't really sound quite as bad as it would have before the match. Still, it's hardly an ideal way to begin the defence of the title.

Chelsea could easily have lost this in the second half, but the first was mostly tolerable. The Blues began strongly, keeping the ball and probing the visitors' back line, and the combined pressing of Oscar and Diego Costa was a joy to behold. It all looked good, especially with a 2-1 lead going into the break. There were, however, clear warning signs of the terror to come. Both fullbacks were hard pressed to stop crosses, and the sight of Jonjo Shelvey steaming down the pitch without a blue shirt in sight will, I think, be seared into my memory forever. And not just because it's impossible to forget a face like that.

The Blues of course began on the front foot, and the first positive action of the half came when Costa was brought down by Federico Fernandez in the Swansea box. Costa and the fans were braying for a penalty and a straight red*, but, as seems increasingly reasonable on the replays, Michael Oliver decreed that Fernandez had poked the ball behind for a corner before wiping out the striker.

*This too had some parallels with events after the interval. The first half wasn't Chekov's Gun, it was Chekov's Arsenal So Large And Powerful That The UN Is Considering Sanctions Unless Inspectors Are Allowed Into The Facilities**.

**My pre-season did not include metaphor training. I'm not sorry.

Meanwhile, Shelvey was causing carnage in the Blues' back line. John Terry and Gary Cahill were playing a high line, and with a slow centre back pairing and a mobile if clumsy striker in Bafetimbi Gomis to  worry about, the Chelsea midfield absolutely had to deny Shelvey the space from which to play through passes. They didn't, and it was only by dint of our opponent being Gomis rather than, say, Wilfried Bony, that Swansea didn't take full advantage.

There were problems out wide as well, with both fullbacks repeatedly getting done and allowing crosses, and although Thibaut Courtois was on hand to mop up anything that came too near him, Jefferson Montero increasingly got the better of Branislav Ivanovic, and eventually that bettering would result in a goal.

By then, of course, Chelsea had taken the lead, and just like everything else about this game bar our absurd second, there was a delightful amount of foreshadowing. Oscar had already flashed a free kick across the face of goal once before he got a chance from just left of the Swans box after Cesar Azpilicueta won a free kick off Gomis (who was pretending to play right midfield after Gary Cahill temporarily knocked André Ayew out of the match), and the Brazilian did one better with his next delivery. A delightful ball was curled into no-man's land between defence and goalkeeper, and with Lukasz Fabianski not sure whether or not it was going to get a touch he dove late and couldn't stop it creeping into the bottom corner.

This Chelsea team spent most of the second half of last year coughing up leads, however, and they were in sufficient practice despite the summer break to do so again here. Montero managed to squirm past Willian and Ivanovic and pick out Gomis at the back post (the big man's mis-match with Azpilicueta was painful). His header was well-saved by Courtois, but the ball fell to Ayew, who, despite seeing his first shot blocked, picked himself up and thumped home.

The equaliser took no wind whatsoever out of Chelsea's sails, because by the time we'd even noticed we were back in front. Willian had cut in from the left and attempted a cross which flicked off Fernandez, looped over Fabianski, and ended up in the back of the net. Which was a very weird way of scoring, but one which the home fans happily accepted. So despite looking a little bit dodgy defensively and despite not quite combining on the attack, the Blues went into the break 2-1 to the good.

Then came the bad. Swansea came out of the blocks firing in the second half, pinning Chelsea back in their own half for most of the opening exchanges. An equaliser seemed inevitable, and indeed when it came it was worse than a mere goal. Shelvey was allowed to fire a pass through the lines (Willian, defensively diligent, had spoiled the offside line by tracking Montero), and Gomis was clipped by Courtois at the top of the area.

Again came the shout for a penalty and a red card (both warranted, although there's probably going to be some debate about that), and this time Oliver agreed, sending Courtois to take an early bath and forcing Oscar's substitution for Asmir Begovic. The Bosnian marked his Chelsea debut by diving the wrong way for Gomis' spot kick.

At this point Chelsea could have collapsed entirely. They were on the back foot with 11 men, and 10 only made it more difficult. Indeed, Swansea were looking good value for a third, and Begovic did very well to keep them from getting it. Gomis actually had the ball in the back of the net again only to see his strike ruled out for offside (it was a marginal call but correct), and could have had another one-on-one if not for the linesman (see previous parenthetical).

Eventually, however, the Blues built up a head of steam, and spent the final 25 minutes of the game looking for a winner. They might have gotten it in a different world, with several great chances being wasted as the game died down. Eden Hazard, who'd been relatively quiet, began terrorising the Swansea defence, drawing foul after foul as well as a good save from Fabianski, but whenever Chelsea got into dangerous positions they tended to waste them by dallying on the ball too much.

At least trying and failing to score was less stressful than waiting with bleeding nails for Swansea to do it, but either way it hardly made for fun times. Not even adding Kurt Zouma and Radamel Falcao to the big bodies on the attack made much of a difference, and Chelsea's afternoon can perhaps be summed up by the fact that, given one last chance to send a good free kick into the box, Matic failed to clear the first man and nearly let the visitors assemble a dangerous counterattack.

So 2-2 it was. A frustrating draw, certainly, and one that doesn't feel as rough given how bad it might have been but then feels rougher given how good it should have been. Such is life. Such is football. Such are our HORRIBLY CURSED NEW KITS.