Chelsea fail to fire in Mata's absence

Mon, Nov 5, 2012, 00:00

Swansea City 1 Chelsea 1:Chelsea expect to be reinforced by the return of their leading scorer, Juan Mata, and will have John Terry available again for their Champions League tie at home to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night.

The European champions are in need of a lift after one win in their last four games and the manager, Roberto Di Matteo, is particularly keen to have Mata, his player of the season to date, back in the starting line-up against the unbeaten group leaders, who defeated Chelsea 2-1 on October 23rd.

The return at Stamford Bridge is a match from which Di Matteo’s team probably need maximum points if they are not to lose second place in Group E to Juventus, who are odds-on favourites to beat Denmark’s Nordsjaelland in Turin the same night. It is too early to be talking of “must-win” fixtures, but Chelsea have only four points from their first three games and need to reassert themselves if they are to progress.

They hardly looked like Europe’s finest in drawing at Swansea on Saturday, when a combination of fatigue, off-the-field distractions and the Welsh team’s impressive performance cost Chelsea pole position in the Premier League.

A week after tainting Mark Clattenburg with accusations of racism, they heaped praise on Kevin Friend, who refereed at the Liberty Stadium.

Di Matteo said: “I went to see him to congratulate him. He did very well. After everything that has been going on, he showed a lot of common sense, letting the game flow and the players play their game.

“The officials were very good. We tend to criticise them so it’s important that we say when they do well. He told me the players helped him to be able to conduct the game in that way.”

Nice, but the implicit rider was that Clattenburg had done none of that. Di Matteo added he had not instructed his team to be on their best behaviour as it was unnecessary.

“Generally, they are very good in that respect.”

He thought tiredness, after two demanding matches against Manchester United, rather than the racism controversy was at the root of Chelsea’s shortcomings.

“It was disappointing to concede the equaliser just two minutes from the end, but Swansea are a good team. They played well at Manchester City last week and again in winning at Liverpool. They are a team with a lot of quality and they’ll make it tough for all the top sides.”

Chelsea were marginally the better team on Saturday, edging it in terms of possession and chances created, but their play lacked its customary conviction. Understandably some players had heavy legs after their midweek exertions against Manchester United, but just as significant was the absence of the creative Mata.

In an aesthetically pleasing contest, in which both sides played good, constructive football, Chelsea took a deserved lead when Mata’s understudy, Victor Moses, backheaded the ball in at the far post after Gary Cahill had nodded down an Eden Hazard corner.

Swansea, for all their coherent passing, were not creating chances until Michael Laudrup eschewed caution in pursuit of equality and sent on an extra striker, Danny Graham, effectively switching to 4-2-4.

Another attacking substitute, Nathan Dyer, nearly embarrassed Peter Cech from distance and on 88 minutes boldness had its reward when Itay Shechter laid the ball back to Pablo Hernandez who, from 20 yards, drilled it inside Cech’s left-hand upright.

Graham would have won it at the death without Cahill’s last-ditch intervention, but a point apiece was the most equitable outcome.

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