Eden Hazard’s winner helps Chelsea stay in touch at the top
But Jose Mourinho’s side struggle to see off modest Swansea outfit
Even so, this all felt familiar. Samuel Eto’o was denied three times, the opportunity 13 seconds after the break from Juan Mata’s delicious delivery rather summing up the contest’s trajectory. A yard either side of Gerhard Tremmel and the net would have bulged. As it is, Eto’o’s volley from point-blank range struck the goalkeeper on the line.
Those concerns over the strikers will persist, presumably, until the summer when the forward ranks are rejigged. Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba boast five Premier League goals from a combined 17 starts this season, although criticising them is becoming a cliche.
Chelsea could at least draw encouragement from Eden Hazard’s winner, the team’s leading scorer fed by Ashley Cole’s pass to dart inside Jordi Amat and skim a shot goalwards, which Tremmel might have saved had Ashley Williams not dived across his eye-line.
Hazard was the subject of Mourinho’s penalty appeal, too, as Amat dived in to claim the ball but then take the forward’s back leg.
“Big scissors in the box,” said the Portuguese. “The kind of decision other managers cry about for two hours.”
In truth, few home players had appeared aggrieved to see the calls waved away, even if it would have lanced the tension. When Swansea did threaten on the counterattack, Ramires scythed down the substitute Wilfried Bony on the halfway line and was booked.
“It wasn’t a silly action,” added Mourinho but it did earn the Brazilian a fifth caution and a suspension for Sunday’s visit of Liverpool.
Swansea cursed such cynicism though, appearing to be a side resigned to their own shortcomings. Michael Laudrup’s team retain that class in possession but, stripped of the injured Michu, they can be toothless. This loss left them with two wins in 14 matches in all competitions, the Europa League having stretched their resources and disrupted their lineup.
Tomorrow’s trip to Aston Villa suddenly appears critical, particularly with a collision with Manchester City to come.
“We have to take positives from this into the game at Villa,” said Laudrup. “But this was what we expected. Teams like that have quality players who eventually make the difference: Oscar, Hazard, Mata, top, top international quality level. There’s a reason these players play in certain teams rather than others.”
It is upon those players whom Mourinho is leaning, both to create and convert. He had moved to shake Laudrup’s hand well before added time had ticked down here, as if desperate for this all to be over. Even in victory, this did not feel enjoyable.