Demba Ba struck another priceless goal following his Champions League heroics to keep Chelsea firmly in the Barclays Premier League title race.
Swansea 0-1 Chelsea
Scorer: Chelsea - Ba (68)
Ba’s 68th-minute strike finally broke ten-man Swansea’s Liberty Stadium resistance for a 1-0 win that leaves Chelsea two points behind leaders Liverpool with four games remaining.
And it followed the winner he struck against Paris Saint-Germain five days ago that booked the Blues’ place in this season’s Champions League semi-finals.
Chelsea, who visit Anfield in a fortnight’s time, were made to sweat and toil by the Swans following Chico Flores’ 17th-minute sending off.
Flores was dismissed on receipt of a second yellow card – his cautions came just over two minutes apart – but Swansea scrapped for everything before Ba struck and left Garry Monk’s men just three points above the relegation zone.
Much of Chelsea’s performance was hesitant, especially in attack, but Ba ultimately came up trumps when it really mattered – as he did at Stamford Bridge to dump PSG out of Europe on away goals – and it keeps the heat on Liverpool.
Swansea, in contrast, head to Newcastle next Saturday, knowing they are far from safe, especially following a weekend when two of the clubs below them – Fulham and Cardiff – both won.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho made five changes from the side that took on PSG, handing starts to Ba, Nemanja Matic, Ramires, Mohamad Salah and Andre Schurrle.
Swansea showed two switches from the side beaten 1-0 at Hull last weekend, with Nathan Dyer and Pablo Hernandez both starting. Jonathan De Guzman and Michu dropped out, with no place for Michu among the substitutes either.
A fast opening saw Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech save low down from Hernandez, before Salah missed a golden sixth-minute opportunity for the visitors when he side-footed wide from inside the penalty area. Swansea enjoyed the lion’s share of territory, and Cech was called on again to deflect a Wilfried Bony header over the bar before Flores became an unwanted centre of attention.
He was cautioned for a foul on Willian, then he pulled down Schurrle just outside Swansea’s box, and referee Phil Dowd brandished another yellow, leaving the home side down to ten men.
Swans head coach Monk was left fuming by the decision – Dowd appeared to take a long time before he brandished a card – and he cut an animated figure on the touchline before a sense of order was restored and a reshuffle meant Jordi Armat going on for Hernandez.
Only two players had been sent off earlier during a game for two yellow cards in Premier League history – former Arsenal captain Tony Adams and Everton’s Alec Cleland.
“If you go by the letter of the law it is a sending off, but if you do letter of the law every single game then you will get six or seven sendings off a game,” Monk said.
“The disappointing thing was that he (referee Phil Dowd) looked like he signalled straight away ‘no’ – as if to signal it didn’t warrant another yellow.
“Then their bench and manager surrounds the fourth official and their players surround the referee and then the red card comes later on.
“It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
“But I know Phil, and he is an honest guy. I don’t think he responded to the pressure. If he says it was him giving himself time, then it is him giving himself time. But the circumstances make it strange.”
Ba finally destroyed Swansea’s hopes of a point, leaving them still scrapping in the league’s lower reaches and ensuring Chelsea retain hopes of title silverware as they survived a late Swans flurry that saw Cech pressed into action.
Mourinho opted not to attend his post-match press conference, handing the job instead to assistant coach Steve Holland.
“Jose asked me to do it,” Holland said, without offering any further explanation. “It is something I have done a few times this year, and it is something I am more than happy to do when he asks me.”
On the Flores cautions, Holland added: “In my opinion, the two yellow card decisions were crystal clear. I have seen them both back, and I think the referee was quite clearly correct on both counts. I think the referee made the decision, and he made the decision correctly.”