With Spurs having drawn and Arsenal about to face Man Utd, Chelsea were in an ideal position to secure a positive result, return to third place and add further pressure to their two rivals as they battle to finish in the top four.
There was also the small matter of Chelsea having faced Swansea on three separate occasions this season and failed to win any of them. The revenge duly arrived but the collection of three points would have been a much sweeter reward for Benitez and his players.
Benitez made five changes to the side that had drawn away to Liverpool in their last league game. With the potential for there to be six more games this season, Chelsea continue to rotate their squad as the end of a packed season nears its conclusion.
Terry, Cole, Cahill and Ba all came back into the side at the expense of Ivanovic, Bertrand, Mikel and Torres.
David Luiz was moved forward from a central defensive position to form one half of the double pivot in midfield.
Michael Laudrup chose to swap Dyer and Moore for Routledge and Ki. Otherwise, Swansea were unchanged from the side which had drawn 0-0 at home to Southampton and their 4-2-3-1 template was intact.
A decent game with a degree of inevitability always hanging over it. There are some games each season that you can write the script for prior to kick off and this felt like one such game. Swansea displayed the qualities that they had done under Brendan Rodgers. Neat passing, good possession but no creativity in the final third whilst you always sensed that Chelsea would run out winners in the end. Not that Chelsea fans would complain about that – if such results continued until the end of the season.
The approach that both sides took to this game can be visually summarised by considering where they both made their interceptions as shown on the graphic below:-
Whereas Chelsea tried to take the game to their opponents, pressing them and pushing up against a Swansea side, determined not to let them have too much possession and dictate the tempo, Swansea were too passive. They would lose possession and drop off. Retreat into the own half and retain their shape. They were not overly defensive, they played nice football but they just lacked that hunger, that extra degree of effort.
Chelsea made 10 of their 17 interceptions in the opposing half of the pitch whereas Swansea only made 2 of their 16 interceptions in the Chelsea half. If you regain possession deep, it’s going to be more difficult to get to the opponents goal. Dropping deeper consequently made it harder to move upfield when they did have possession. Swansea enjoyed 48% overall but it was too deep, too ineffective and lacked any sort of cutting edge as can be seen below.
If the defensive differences were considerable, do too were the attacking variations.
As usual, Juan Mata was bust and effective for Chelsea, controlling the play and winning the penalty fouling a clumsy tackle on him by Leon Brittain. The Spaniard was his usual self, prompting and orchestrating the tempo for the home side. As pointed out above though, Swansea were too deep and failed to offer any serious threat to Petr Cech with minimal intent within the Chelsea half of the pitch.
The graphic below shows the final third passes attempted and completed by both teams:-
Having fewer passes in the final third is not necessarily a problem provided you have the payers on hand to take advantage of that situation but by placing Michu as the central striker, it arguably removes one of his best qualities; arriving from the second line of attack. Jonathan de Guzman is no substitute for that and Swansea helped negate their own attacking options.
Chelsea enjoyed substantially greater play in the final third of the pitch but few serious incursions into the Swansea penalty area occurred. Lampard’s assist to Scar began and was completed outside of the penalty area. When a game is developing in such a manner, you need to possess options for shooting from distance or timing late runs into the penalty area rather than having too many players who are advanced but are static. Chelsea have one such player in their ranks.
He shoots, he scores – Lampard
The departure of Ramires after 25minutes may not have seemed that important when the switch occurred but it was arguably the defining moment of the game. Chelsea had possession and were dominating territorially but that crucial spark was missing. That moment which signals a change in the direction of the game and lifts the crowd as well. Yet again, Lampard produced such a moment.
Lampard won possession from Jonathan de Guzman and moved forward before hitting a shot which Vorm saved but it was sufficient to lift Chelsea from their slumber.
The midfielder went on to supply the assist for Oscar just a few minutes later before then scoring the penalty which settled the game even at this early stage and propelled Chelsea back into third place ahead of rivals Arsenal and Spurs as the sides continue to compete for the final two Champions League positions.
Lampard was provided with conditional praise from Bentiez afterwards
[quote]He’s a great player, a great professional. He wants to play but he understands the priorities and the club comes first.[/quote]
Now in his 13th season at the Bridge, Lampard has scored 201 goals for Chelsea in all competitions and stands just one goal short of equaling Bobby Tambling’s record of 202 goals. Should Lampard depart Chelsea at the end of the season, he will want to do so having surpassed Tambling’s 43 year old record and with up to six games across all competitions available to him, he should have that opportunity.
The graphic below shows Lampard’s attempts at goal against Swansea:-
Despite playing as one half of the double pivot alongside David Luiz, Lampard continued to push forward. Have consistently scored in the Premiership from Chelsea with late runs forward and shots from the edge of the penalty area, it’s remarkable how he continues to do so. Teams don’t seem to prevent him from doing this. From his five shots at goal, four originate from a very central position
Tough Fixtures for Chelsea
With a trip to Old Trafford and then a meeting with Spurs thereafter, Chelsea have given themselves the ideal platform to secure Champions League football but there is still some way to go. The small issue of the Europa League must also be confronted. Would Benitez rather have a trophy on his CV than a top four finish? His post match press conference emphasised the need to qualify for the Champions League but if he is departing, a trophy would look nice for prospective employers, would it not? And he has the Champions League and Uefa Cup listed there but not the Europa League.
Swansea were neat in possession but offered too little in attack and have now endured six league games without a victory. The League Cup win threatens to deflate the remainder of their season even if a top half finish should be achieved owing as much to their early season form as the inability of those teams below them to muster any sort of consistent run. It’s an issue that Laudrup must address but past experience from elsewhere suggest he is not the man to get things going again when trouble looms.
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