A nightmare weekend for Swansea City was compounded with a scrappy 1-0 defeat to Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium.
A low-quality affair was set into a clear pattern after Chelsea pounced early to score through Cesc Fabregas, ruining Swansea’s game-plan entirely and forcing the Welsh side to give up space and possession in the search of an equaliser.Embed from Getty Images
There was immediate intensity to all of Swansea’s play from the first minute, matched by a coolness of touch by Chelsea; it was nerves and desperation versus experience from the beginning. Andy King took a loose touch in midfield in the third minute and suddenly Chelsea were away, Eden Hazard running through and setting up Fabregas to curl home an excellent finish. Suddenly, Swansea had to change every idea they were drilled in preparation, and despite a positive response they were at an immediate disadvantage, playing into Chelsea’s hands.
For the rest of the first-half Swansea were almost passive in their play, occasionally getting hope from Chelsea back-line errors, particularly from Gary Cahill with a disastrous pass out of defence, but Swansea do not have the ruthless nature or indeed, the players, to punish such errors. Fabregas was controlling the game in midfield whenever Chelsea decided to keep the ball but often they let Swansea have it, waiting for the counter-attack; a role-reversal to what Swansea had hoped their game-plan would be.
Swansea started the second half brightly, running at Chelsea’s defence and getting to balls quicker, with more intensity. Kante, so often Chelsea’s ticking clock in midfield, was targeted by Swansea as a means to take away Chelsea’s defining control over the game, and it worked to a degree and yet players like Hazard and Giroud were consistently dangerous on the break. They are a striking partnership that seems to have a telepathic understanding, despite their attempted interplay’s being a couple of inches each time from being successful. Andre Ayew began storming forward, heading over the bar and then flashing a shot wide of the left post, but his positive attitude proved infectious. Tom Carroll, an excellent influence after coming off the bench, hit a late rasping shot just wide, and Nathan Dyer should have done better when presented with a chance to cross across the box from a good position.Embed from Getty Images
To say this result leaves Swansea in a difficult position is an understatement. Southampton’s win earlier in the day against Bournemouth leaves Swansea only one point above the relegation zone with three games to go, with Southampton and Stoke still to play at the Liberty. It is difficult to fault their application in this match, especially in the second half, and luck could have gone their way more than a couple of times (the referee, Jon Moss, had a torrid afternoon, drawing the ire of both sides repeatedly). The simple fact is that Swansea do not score enough goals anymore, an inability to create chances regularly and then to take them consistently when they arrive. They could have secured at least a point today through the late flurry of pressure but this isn’t the first time that has been said this season, and may not be the last.
Swansea are flirting so closely with relegation simply because they deserve to and the only silver-lining is that they have, in their remaining games, guilt-edged chances to beat direct relegation opposition. Chelsea have made it to an FA Cup final but refuse to lose momentum in the league, now winning three in a row, in the hope that Tottenham will slip up and sacrifice their Champions League place. After this result, the gap is only two points.
The headlines however, will be about Swansea. They have three more chances to save themselves, and they won’t go down for lack of trying at least. Their pure quality on the field is questionable however; it is a team of strong, robust individuals but the kind of quality that can win a football match is sorely lacking. It has been a nightmare day for them, and yet their nightmare run of games is now arguably over. It is still in their hands but for most, the general view is now that their fate is slipping through their fingers.
Man of the Match: Cesc Fabregas
The creative midfielder is now a veteran, but his hold on games is still mesmerising. His goal was beautifully taken, more beautiful still was the way he controlled the game from that point onward. His calmness and eye for a pass highlighted exactly the kind of player that Swansea do not seem to have.
Written by Jack Hall.
22. An often foolishly optimistic Swansea City fan, writing previews and reports for 90MAAT. Currently finishing a Masters in Film at Southampton University. @apuffofJack