This article titled “Antonio Conte sent off before Rüdiger header sees Chelsea past Swansea City” was written by Ed Aarons at Stamford Bridge, for The Guardian on Wednesday 29th November 2017 23.29 UTC
These are nervous times for Paul Clement. In a week during which two of Swansea City’s relegation rivals will appoint new managers, a narrow away defeat against the reigning champions, courtesy of Antonio Rüdiger’s second-half header, does not sound like the worst result.
Yet the manner of this performance – Swansea barely mustered a shot in anger – and with the Welsh club now the only team in the bottom five not to have parted company with their manager this season, it is clear that Clement’s time is running out fast.
The sending off of his counterpart Antonio Conte just before half-time for a bizarre tantrum at the fourth official had perhaps given Clement a glimmer of hope that this could be his night on his return to Stamford Bridge. Those hopes were dashed when Chelsea finally took the lead and never looked like surrendering it as they maintained their faint chances of retaining the title they won with such style last season.
“The most disappointing thing was the nature of the goal – there were players that had their backs turned, they weren’t in the right position,” Clement said. “What I was pleased about was that we didn’t fold and in the last 10 minutes we started to come back into the game and the players had the belief that they could create something. It was disappointing because we are desperate for points and on another night we could have got something.”
Clement selected the same team that drew with Bournemouth on Saturday, with a third consecutive start in midfield for Renato Sanches, the Portugal international on loan from Bayern Munich, with Jordan Ayew also tasked with providing Wilfried Bony with support in attack.
For the first time in a Premier League match since he arrived at the club, Conte opted to leave César Azpilicueta on the bench. Rüdiger took his place, with Eden Hazard also surprisingly left on the bench – after his master class at Liverpool – in favour of Willian and a recall for Cesc Fàbregas in place of Danny Drinkwater.
This was Clement’s second return with Swansea to the club where he spent more than a decade working as a youth coach. Before the match, tributes were paid to his former colleague Dermot Drummy, with whom Clement worked for Chelsea’s Under-18s side. He admitted afterwards that the had been “devastated” by the news of Drummy’s death on Tuesday, with fate dictating that he would be back in southwest London the following day.
Swansea’s owners are rumoured to have sounded out Tony Pulis over his potential availability should they decide to dispense with Clement, although on this evidence, even the Welshman would have his work cut out solving Swansea’s defensive issues as Chelsea repeatedly created chances throughout the first period. Álvaro Morata came closest to breading the deadlock with a header in the 22nd minute that was turned over by Lukas Fabianski. The Swansea goalkeeper produced an even better save after Morata connected on the volley with Fàbregas’s pinpoint cross, while Marcos Alonso wasted another great opportunity from a corner.
When Alfie Mawson’s touch diverted a cross and the referee Neil Swarbrick awarded a goal-kick, Conte’s frustrations boiled over. He was sent to the stands after shouting directly in the face of the fourth official Lee Mason as Swansea somehow made it to the break with parity.
“After the game it’s right to apologise for what happened,” said Conte, who watched the rest of the game from the dressing room. “I saw that Swansea were wasting time and I said this a few times to the fourth official but I didn’t see that something had changed. I was frustrated about this situation and tried to tell him again and the referee took this decision. For sure I made a mistake but during the game I suffered with my players. It’s a pity.”
It was no surprise to see Leroy Fer replace Sanches at half time given the number of times the 20-year-old had given the ball away in a hapless opening 45 minutes, with Clement later admitting Sanches is struggling with confidence. But within 10 minutes of the restart, Chelsea were in front thanks a slice of good fortune as N’Golo Kanté’s shot from just outside the box deflected off Bony and straight into the path of Rüdiger to head home.
The return of Victor Moses after six weeks out with a hamstring injury – swiftly followed by the introduction of Hazard and Drinkwater – was Chelsea’s attempt to kill off the game. The change almost had the desired effect as Swansea were once again forced to scramble the ball away from under their own crossbar after good work from the Belgian.
At the other end, the substitute Wayne Routledge had a golden opportunity to rescue something from the game but his cross was, like Swansea, severely lacking in quality.
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