A first-half Eden Hazard strike was enough to pick up three more precious Premier League points, with a strong defensive performance rendering more missed chances worthless.
It was an occasionally tense afternoon at Stamford Bridge, as we struggled to put clear daylight between ourselves and a resolute Swansea side, despite dominating much of the game. Hazard scored his ninth of the season with a fierce low drive, capping a spell of severe Chelsea dominance in an entertaining opening period.
Samuel Eto’o went closest to adding a second, finding Gerhard Tremmel in fine form either side of the break, but we closed out the victory with relatively few scares, setting us up nicely for the visit of Liverpool on Sunday.
With four games in 10 days over the Christmas period, it was little surprise to see Mourinho make changes to the side that drew 0-0 at Arsenal on Monday evening, five in total. Ashley Cole started his first Premier League game since November 2, while there was also a place in the defence for David Luiz. In midfield, Frank Lampard made way as Mourinho opted to revert to three attacking players behind the striker, with Samuel Eto’o chosen to lead the line. Juan Mata and Oscar, making his 50th Premier League appearance, were brought in to form part of that attacking trio behind the Cameroonian.
There were plenty of changes in our visitors’ line-up, too, with Michael Laudrup bringing in six fresh faces from the team that lost to Everton on Sunday.
A bright opening 10 minutes yielded a lot of Chelsea possession, often in dangerous areas, but few clear openings to speak of. Hazard nearly released Oscar but the ball slipped away from the Brazilian, and when we did manage to get a shot on goal, Branislav Ivanovic’s effort was hacked away by Ashley Williams.
We continued to crank up the pressure in search of the opening goal, with our pressing game, high up the pitch, forcing the visitors to cede possession on a regular basis. Hazard had been looking especially lively and, after exchanging passes with Samuel Eto’o, he dragged the ball wide of Tremmel’s goal as the angle narrowed.
A flurry of Chelsea chances came and went in quick succession, with our dominance now threatening to turn into an onslaught. Oscar produced a brilliant tackle on Alejandro Pozuelo out wide, and his searching cross was equally as good, picking out John Terry. The captain’s volley, bounced hard into the ground, worried Tremmel enough for him to tip over the bar.
From the resulting corner Terry won his header but amid some panic in the visiting side’s ranks the ball was put behind for another corner, and this time Ivanovic saw his shot blocked. A third consecutive corner eventually produced the match’s clearest opening, Mata’s devilish cross to the back post met by Terry – again – and his flick went past Tremmel but bounced agonisingly along the line, cleared by a man in white just before Mikel could pounce on the loose ball.
It felt like only a matter of time, but there was still a sense of relief at a chilly Stamford Bridge when Hazard finally did break the deadlock with 28 minutes played. Receiving Cole’s pass on the left touchline, the Belgian drifted inside Jordi Amat with a drop of the shoulder and thumped the ball through Tremmel, the Swans’ keeper perhaps unsighted as Williams got across to cover, in turn blocking his view.
Mourinho was kicking thin air in frustration seconds later as the chance of an immediate second slipped by. Tremmel had been playing it out from the back from the first minute, and Eto’o, as we now know a master in the art of harassing goalkeepers into errors, managed to shut off a route out for the visitors’ custodian. The loose ball was pounced upon by Tremmel just before it reached the lurking Oscar.
Swansea nearly capitalised on this reprieve with 32 gone when Shelvey flicked a header on in the box and Vazquez’s shot on the volley was tipped over by Cech.
In truth, though, it had been Chelsea’s half and we came very close to adding a second before the interval when Eto’o latched on to Mata’s immaculate lobbed ball. On the run, the striker’s left-footed shot was too close to Tremmel, who got down low to parry.
Mourinho will have no doubt stressed to his team during the break the significance of a second goal, and welcome breathing space very nearly arrived within the first 15 seconds of the restart.
A penetrating David Luiz long ball into the channel released Mata on the right. The Spaniard’s cross was perfect, finding Eto’o, but on the stretch he could only volley straight at Tremmel from six yards.
Eto’o again went close, having this time received Hazard’s pass, but the Cameroonian fired just wide with Tremmel scrambling across his goal.
A feature of our recent games had been an inability to kill teams off when on top, so a decent spell of possession and territory for Swansea was of visible concern to Mourinho, anxious that his side not offer the opposition a route back into a game they had long been second best for.
A couple of corners and deflected shots aside, that pressure didn’t amount to anything tangible, and our manager made two changes in quick succession which, aligned with a formation change, helped swing the momentum back in our favour.
First Frank Lampard was introduced, in place of Oscar, as we switched to a midfield trio, and our all-time leading scorer was next to test Tremmel, drawing a fine diving save with a 20-yard daisy-cutter. Andre Schurrle then replaced Mata, with Hazard switching to the right of Eto’o and the German to the left.
We were still looking relatively comfortable when the ball was lobbed into our box, but our inability to make the right choice in the final third was keeping the game on tenterhooks, much to the irritation of an increasingly-agitated Mourinho.
Ramires was particularly culpable of failing to pick out a man in blue as the Brazilian led a lightening counter-attack, and when Swansea tried similar, our midfield engine ruled himself out of Sunday’s game with Liverpool after tripping substitute Wilfried Bony.
There were some dangerous late moments, including a couple of vital injury-time blocks from Mikel, but we saw the game out for a second consecutive clean sheet and a crucial Boxing Day victory.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, David Luiz, Terry (c), Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Mata (Schurrle 71), Oscar (Lampard 66), Hazard (Willian 81); Eto’o.
Unused substitutes: Schwarzer, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Torres.
Scorers Hazard 28
Booked Ramires 85
Swansea (4-2-3-1): Tremmel; Rangel, Amat, Williams (c), Taylor; Britton, Canas (de Guzman 60); Pozuelo, Shelvey, Routledge (Bony 78); Vazquez.
Unused substitutes: Zabret, Flores, Tiendalli, Davies, Hernandez.
Referee Mike Jones