It could be argued that Chelsea had very little left to play for in the Premier League, with Champions League qualification all but out of reach and a place in the Europa League practically assured. However, Liverpool’s consecutive draws against relegated West Brom and now, Stoke City, have made things slightly more interesting, especially given that the Blues host Liverpool next weekend. To ultimately clinch the coveted qualification place for the Champions League, Chelsea would have to win all their remaining games and hope, in addition, that Brighton can hold the Merseysiders on the final day of the season.
Hence, with newly-discovered hope, Chelsea took to the field at the Liberty Stadium, a place where they’d picked up all three points only twice in their last six visits. This time around promised to be no easier, with the Swans having their backs against the wall in the relegation dogfight - they remain with their heads just above water, with a lone point separating them and 18th-placed Southampton.
Chelsea reverted to their 3-5-2 shape, having started with a 3-4-3 in the FA Cup win against Southampton but it wasn’t Alvaro Morata who started up front with Olivier Giroud, rather it was Eden Hazard. The only changes otherwise, from the Southampton game, were the inclusion of Tiemoue Bakayoko at the expense of Willian, who missed out due to the change in formation and Thibaut Courtois reinstated between the goalposts. Swansea, on the other hand, made two changes from their 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City with Sam Clucas and Connor Roberts replacing Tom Carroll and Federico Fernandez respectively, in a 3-5-2 of their own.
Swansea had barely any time to get to grips with things, as Cesc Fabregas put Chelsea in the lead in only the fourth minute of the match. On-loan midfielder from Leicester, Andy King, gave the ball away cheaply in the Swansea half with the seemingly omnipresent N’Golo Kante capitalising on his error and laying the ball off to Hazard who found Fabregas in the penalty area with a through ball. It was only Fabregas’ second league goal of the season, the first one coming against Everton in August.
Such an early goal meant Carlos Carvalhal’s men had to step things up a notch right from the very beginning and to their credit, they did. By no means did Swansea allow Chelsea to dominate possession of the ball, trying their best to work their way into the opposition half and prise open the Chelsea defence via the Ayew brothers, their pivotal focal points up front. Wide center-backs Alfie Mawson and Kyle Naughton began pressing high up the pitch and spending most of their time in midfield. Unfortunately for Swansea, they could move the ball around comfortably but failed to find the elusive pass to fashion a clear-cut scoring opportunity and were often reduced to efforts from distance, or failed crosses. A cross to an onrushing Roberts at the far post was about as close as they came to scoring, however the young wing-back never really got his head to the ball as his run was well tracked by Emerson Palmieri, who looked to be having a great game, defensively. Towards the end of the half, a similar cross from Martin Olsson failed to find Sam Clucas’ run into the box from a counter-attack due to an excellent sliding tackle intervention by Antonio Rudiger.
Eden Hazard was Chelsea’s catalyst in attack, often moving between the lines and creating spaces for Victor Moses and Cesc Fabregas to receive the ball in. However, continued pressure built up by Swansea as the first half progressed meant that Chelsea’s tangible attempts on goal were in short supply as well, although an excellent spell of link-up play involving Fabregas, Moses and Hazard almost ended up in Alfie Mawson scoring an own-goal. It was quite telling of the game that by the time referee Jon Moss blew for half-time, the only attempt on goal so far was Fabregas’ fourth-minute effort.
Swansea picked up where they left off upon play resuming, seeing Andre Ayew’s header from a Martin Olsson cross fire above goal. While they pressed on for an opening, Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud led a couple of promising counter-attacks that could’ve led to goals with a little more incisive passing and/or crossing. Swansea made the first substitution of the game in the 58th minute, sacrificing a midfielder, Andy King for a very much traditional winger in Nathan Dyer and hence shifting to a 3-4-3 with Jordan Ayew leading the line, Dyer on the right and Andre Ayew plying down the left. Five minutes later, Carlos Carvalhal made his second change of the night, bringing on Tom Carroll for Connor Roberts. This meant that a switch to a 4-3-3 was in order, with Kyle Naughton moving from center-back and assuming a more familiar right-back role.
A well-wayward attempt from outside the area by Tiemoue Bakayoko in the 67th minute was Chelsea’s first attempt on goal in a while, indicative of the trend that had been established in the match; Swansea were toiling away and keeping more possession of the ball while Chelsea were seemingly content to keep their efforts to counter-attacks.
Things began to kick off in the 70th minute, as Emerson managed to get an actual shot on target, cutting inwards and running all the way from the touch-line to the Swansea penalty area and launching a tame effort with his weaker right foot. Emerson also lost out to Nathan Dyer less than a minute later, with the speedy winger managing to get on the end of a one-two with Carroll and make his way into a great crossing position but his subsequent attempt was blocked. Victor Moses almost added a second for Chelsea in the 73rd minute after Hazard and Fabregas combined excellently and the latter’s cross found the right wing-back but with not much space between him and Swansea keeper, Lukas Fabianski. Andre Ayew’s curling effort from just outside the area in the 77th minute went just wide of the upright before Kyle Naughton then tested Courtois with a volley from a similar area. Swansea looked in the ascendancy and were prepared to leave their midfield light and take off Ki Sung-Yueng for another attacking player in Wayne Routledge, in a 4-2-4 formation. Swansea even had a penalty appeal turned down, as Gary Cahill appeared to have unfairly tackled Nathan Dyer in the box, as he was preparing to receive a pass from Ki.
Routledge was eventually brought on in the 80th minute but for Martin Olsson, with Carvalhal presumably wary of letting Hazard run free in the absence of Sung-Yueng. Sam Clucas moved into the left-back position, instead. Pedro and Willian were introduced at the same time for Fabregas and Hazard, with Chelsea switching to a 3-4-3. Conte’s final throw of the dice was to replace Giroud with Alvaro Morata, who offered more pace up front and was a better option to exploit Swansea’s defensive frailties as the Welsh side pressed on and on. Alfie Mawson and Tom Carroll had efforts on goal from the edge of the area in quick succession, with the former Spurs man coming within inches of an equaliser with two minutes of regular time left to play. Substitute Wayne Routledge, soon afterward, set himself up in the penalty area with a good first touch but the following shot was straight at Thibaut Courtois.
The last thirty seconds on the clock were embroiled in controversy, as Jordan Ayew simply rammed into Gary Cahill as the Chelsea captain attempted a pass back to his keeper, drawing an emphatic reaction from the usually calm and collected center-back. The final whistle was met with the sound of boos from Swansea fans, who’d seen Southampton, now only a point behind them, win earlier in the day.
It was a professional shift put in by Chelsea on the day, to say the least, but it was made a more hard-earned victory than it should’ve been. Nevertheless, every point at this stage counts with the upcoming fixture against Liverpool being decisive with respect to the Blues’ Champions League qualification aspirations.