Eden Hazard's seventh Premier League goal of the season was enough to give Chelsea all three points as the Blues registered a comfortable 1-0 victory over Swansea City at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will no doubt lament the fact that once again his side should have killed off a game in which they created and spurned chance after chance in the first half, making for an edgy second period, but the Portuguese will take comfort in the positive result: Chelsea's fifth win in their last seven league games.
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After Monday night's exertions at a rain-swept Emirates, where the Blues played out a tedious 0-0 London derby draw with Arsenal, and mindful of Sunday's home clash with high-flying Liverpool, Thursday's game with midtable Swansea presented Mourinho with an opportunity to rest players and rotate his squad. But with the exception of Ashley Cole, who was preferred to Cesar Azpilicueta at left back, and maybe Samuel Eto'o starting up front ahead of Fernando Torres, a Chelsea starting XI of Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Cole, John Obi Mikel, David Luiz, John Terry, Juan Mata, Ramires, Eto'o, Oscar and Hazard suggested that the Blues' boss was taking nothing for granted.
From the minute referee Michael Jones had proceedings underway, Chelsea were immediately on the offensive, and the Blues could easily have been up 3-0 inside the first 15 minutes. Ivanovic, Ramires and Hazard all had shots blocked, and Eto'o proved to be a real handful for Swansea's defence as he teed up chance after chance for his teammates.
Such profligacy may have become part and parcel of Mourinho's life in his second term in office at Stamford Bridge, but the fact that he spent the majority of the first half dancing a wildly animated jig of frustration in the Chelsea technical area suggests the Blues' manager is still struggling to come to terms with his team's repeated inability to convert the myriad of chances they create.
Shortly before the half-hour mark, the home side got the breakthrough their spirited endeavour deserved when Cole, looking every inch the world-class left-back that he is, intercepted a Swansea clearance and swept the ball forward with inch-perfect precision into the path of Hazard. The Belgium international weaved past Swans defender Jordi Amat, cutting in field before unleashing a right-footed shot from the left side of the box. Gerhard Tremmel in the visitors' goal might have done better had he not been impeded by centre-back Ashley Williams' attempted block, but the ball squirmed under Tremmel's body.
1-0 to Chelsea -- surely the floodgates would open now? But despite further pressure and chances falling to Eto'o and Mata, the Blues failed to improve their situation, and by the time referee Jones blew for halftime, had it not been for an excellent fingertip Cech save following an Alvaro Vazquez volley, the Swans could have leveled proceedings.
With the second period scarcely underway, Eto'o almost doubled his side's tally with a close-range shot that Tremmel saved brilliantly in the centre of his goal. The crowd applauded both the move which led up to the strike and the save, but Mourinho was once more apoplectic, throwing his arms in the air and gesticulating. He clearly thought the veteran Cameroon international might have rippled the net had he placed his shot to either side of the keeper rather than straight at him.
Seconds after the incident, a cheer rippled around Stamford Bridge as news spread that Chelsea old boy Carlton Cole had given West Ham United the lead against Arsenal. As things stood, with Manchester City and Liverpool yet to play their evening fixture at the Etihad, the Blues were top of the table. The good vibes didn't last for too long, however as Swansea, growing in the belief that their hosts would not score again, began to get into the game and create chances of their own.
Mourinho freshened up his options, first sending on Andre Schurrle for Mata, then Frank Lampard for a tiring Oscar, and finally Willian for lone (as it turned out) goal-scorer Hazard. Of the substitutes, Lampard went closest to justifying his introduction to the game with a daisy-cutter that the excellent Tremmel did well to tip round the post. Frayed nerves were the order of the afternoon for the remainder of the game as home supporters -- disturbed by further news from Upton Park that Arsenal had fought back to lead 3-1 against West Ham -- concerned themselves that Swansea might force a late equaliser.
The end, when it finally came after four-plus minutes of added time, was met with audible sighs of relief from Blues fans and prompted Mourinho, speaking postmatch, to underline continued frustration at his team's failure to adequately dispatch opponents. "We had so many chances that you have to score at least once and create a more comfortable situation for yourselves," he said.
But in the end, the record will show three points and a clean sheet, and a glance at the league table shows Chelsea just two points off the top and well in contention for the title. For now, that is all that matters.