Demba Ba keeps Chelsea in the title hunt
Striker the difference against 10-man Swansea at Liberty Stadium
Chelsea’s Demba Ba celebrates scoring the winner against Swansea City. Photograph: Rebecca Naden / Reuters
Swansea City 0 Chelsea 1
The forgotten man of Chelsea is doing a decent job of reminding Jose Mourinho that he might have something to offer after all. For the second time in the space of six days, Demba Ba came to Chelsea’s rescue, following up his decisive late strike against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League in midweek with the only goal of the game here to keep alive their hopes of winning the title.
Mourinho may have conceded defeat on that front after losing at Crystal Palace but Chelsea, make no mistake, are still in the race. This victory lifts them to within two points of Liverpool and they still have to go to Anfield in a fortnight’s time.
It was not a vintage performance by any stretch but they ended a run of three successive away defeats courtesy of Ba’s goal and Chico Flores’s early red card. The Swansea defender was sent off in the 16th minute, after being booked twice in the space of 123 seconds. To their credit, Swansea never surrendered but it was always going to be a big ask to keep Chelsea out for 74 minutes.
Ba, making only his third league start of the season, capitalised on a catalogue of Swansea mistakes to score the vital goal in the second half.
There was no escaping the main talking point. Chico’s early dismissal changed the complexion of the game and prompted some angry exchanges on the touchline. In truth, the Spaniard could have no complaints about receiving a second yellow card. Already on a booking for a poor challenge on Willian, Flores was playing with fire when he cynically brought down André Schürrle as the German broke away on the Chelsea left.
The way Phil Dowd handled the incident was odd, though, to say the least. The referee awarded the free-kick and the expectation was that he would immediately reach for a second yellow card, yet he did nothing of the sort, prompting a furious reaction from Mourinho, who raged at the fourth official, Robert Madley. John Terry then ran to confront Dowd and was waved away. At that point it appeared as though Flores had been granted a reprieve but, after a lengthy delay, Dowd, who appeared to be taking some advice via his ear-piece, brandished a red card.
Now it was Garry Monk’s turn to lose his cool with Madley. Gesturing towards Mourinho, the Swansea head coach made it clear that he was deeply unhappy with the Chelsea manager’s reaction and seemed to be questioning whether Madley had any involvement in Dowd’s belated decision.
From that moment on it was a question of whether Swansea could hold out. They had been fortunate not to concede as early as the sixth minute, when Mohamed Salah wastefully side-footed Branislav Ivanovic’s cut-back wide, although Swansea also came close to scoring prior to Flores’s dismissal. Bony, with a superb twisting header from Àngel Rangel’s deep centre, had Petr Cech stretching every sinew to tip the ball over the angle of crossbar and post.
Although Salah was guilty of squandering another excellent chance on the stroke of half-time, Chelsea struggled to make their numerical advantage count until Mourinho changed things around at the interval. Oscar replaced Ramires and Eto’o supplanted Schürrle as Chelsea reverted to what was effectively a 4-2-4. Swansea were pinned back as Chelsea began to crank up the pressure.
Ba’s glancing header from Ivanovic’s cross flashed wide of the far post and Eto’o profligately drilled wide, snatching at a decent chance from Salah’s cross. A rare Swansea attack saw Wayne Routledge break from deep before driving a shot that deflected off Terry and behind but there was a sense of inevitability that the Chelsea goal was coming.
When the breakthrough did arrive it was a desperately poor goal for Swansea to concede. Cesar Azpilicueta was deep inside his own half when he took a throw-in that picked out Nemanja Matic, who was able to stride forward before picking out Ba with a volleyed pass. Ashley Williams was goal-side of Ba but he never got tight enough to the Chelsea striker, who was able to shift the ball onto his left foot before striking a 20-yard shot that Michel Vorm will be bitterly disappointed he failed to keep out.