Lampard prompts Chelsea into third

Posted by Phil Lythell

With so much to play for and opportunities to pick up points dwindling rapidly, it was absolutely vital that Chelsea made the most of their visit to Swansea. They did just that with a comfortable 2-0 win Sunday, courtesy of Oscar and Frank Lampard.

The game might not have had the intensity of last Sunday's match with Liverpool, but the importance was just the same. Chelsea were patient and content with controlling the tempo as well as possession, waiting for chances to present themselves. A sudden injection of urgency just before halftime was enough to tilt the balance with a lovely one-touch move opening the scoring before Lampard effectively put the game beyond the visitors' reach before the break.

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After the controversy and disappointment of Anfield, the reaction has been impressive. The team has not allowed themselves to dwell on the daylight robbery that materialised on Merseyside and has bounced back with two key wins. The intelligent and stoic 2-1 success at Basel has been complemented by a crucial Premier League victory, and there is a sense that momentum is starting to build.

With Chelsea's run-in appearing to be the most testing out of all the Champions League hopefuls -- at least on paper -- this fixture against a Swansea team with nothing to play for has had three points penciled in for the Blues for some weeks.

With Swansea safely in midtable and basking in the glory of their first piece of major silverware, there would have been little excuse had the European champions not done the job expected of them. Still, nobody in the Premier League simply hands the points over, and with Chelsea having failed to win any of the previous three fixtures between the sides, this season there was unlikely to be any complacency.

Tactically, it was interesting to see Rafael Benitez persist with a similar defensive setup to the one he deployed on Thursday in the Europa League -- trusting John Terry at centre back and allowing David Luiz to be pushed into midfield. And for the second time in four days, it worked.

Luiz has been magnificent in central defence over the past couple of months, so removing him from that position was certainly a risky move. However, the Brazilian has repaid his manager's faith in his ability by adding a robustness to the midfield, even if that can manifest itself through the odd reckless challenge.

He was at his wrecking-ball best against Swansea as he disrupted the intricate rhythms conjured by the Welsh side. Coupled to that was his excellent distribution, a trait only rivaled by Lampard out of those who vie for selection in that deep midfield area. His vision and execution allowed him to start attacks from deep and Demba Ba should probably have made more of the openings carved out for him by Luiz.

Barring an underhit defensive pass across the face of his own penalty area, Terry provided a solid barrier behind him alongside the returning Gary Cahill, who put in a virtually flawless display. Having undergone keyhole surgery on his knee less than a month ago, the England international performed as if he had never been away. Composed on the ball and reading the play astutely, his inclusion meant that Branislav Ivanovic -- enjoying a well-earned rest -- was not missed at all. The only blot on his copybook came when he headed the ball over from Eden Hazard's corner when he should have hit the target.

Thankfully, Lampard was on hand to prompt Chelsea into more decisive action. The veteran was introduced into the fray from the bench earlier than expected after Ramires succumbed to a dead leg in the 25th minute and, as ever, Lampard looked the most likely to break the deadlock.

His first effort flew over the bar; his second forced Michel Vorm into a smart low save. Having not hit the back of the net himself, he had to be content with supplying the inch-perfect first-time pass for Oscar to open the scoring before making no mistake from the penalty spot just moments later.

Lampard is inching ever closer to Bobby Tambling's tally of 202 Chelsea goals, now just one behind. With games running out, the club legend will surely start against Basel on Thursday, and if he does score, he will be nicely set to break the record at Old Trafford next Sunday. Now wouldn't that be sweet?

Farther forward, Oscar, Juan Mata and Hazard were their usual impish selves, though without quite the cutting edge to really open up Swansea. A quicker pass here, a smarter turn there, and the score line could have been wider. However, with Chelsea's goal difference already looking healthy, there was no need for a gung-ho attitude, with victory the only objective.

With both their London rivals dropping points this weekend, Chelsea find themselves back in third position with four games still to play. The gap is two points to Arsenal and three to Tottenham, though crucially the Blues' goal difference is six better than that of the Lillywhites, effectively adding a point to the deficit. If Chelsea can match the same outcome as Tottenham next weekend, they could, for all intents and purposes, guarantee Champions League football with a win over Spurs on May 8.

It would probably mean winning away at Manchester United as Andre Villas-Boas' team have a straightforward-looking fixture with Southampton next time out. Though given the way Chelsea played against the new Premier League champions in their three previous meetings this season, there is no reason why they can't put themselves in pole position going into that all-important London derby a week from Wednesday.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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