LONDON (AFP) - Cesc Fabregas marked his 300th Premier League appearance with the opening goal in Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Swansea as the runaway leaders moved 11 points clear at the top on Saturday (Feb 25).
Fabregas’ first half goal was cancelled out by an equaliser from Fernando Llorente on the stroke of half time at Stamford Bridge, but second half goals from Pedro and Diego Costa sealed a comfortable win.
The outcome meant Swansea manager Paul Clement and coach Claude Makelele endured a painful return to the club they had served as assistant manager and player respectively.
But for Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, the win moved the Blues one step closer towards a second title in three years and further tested the Italian’s determination to play down his side’s prospects of becoming champions.
Conte had been keen to point out nothing was being taken for granted despite the formidable gap between his side and the rest of the chasing pack, explaining he still bears the scars from his experience as Juventus player 17 years ago.
Then, Conte was part of a team that squandered an eight-point lead in the final weeks of the season and the Italian made it clear that experience would help ensure his current club would not succumb to complacency during the run-in.
Chelsea’s start certainly suggested the players shared their manager’s resolve.
Swansea arrived in west London as a team in form having won three of their last four games, a run that has moved them clear of the relegation places.
But the Welsh side were simply overwhelmed right from the opening moments of the game when Pedro immediately unpicked the visitors defence to create a good chance for Costa.
And the breakthrough quickly came in the 19th minute when Clement’s side finally succumbed to Chelsea’s relentless power.
Once again Conte’s side drove at the heart of the visitors defence, this time through Eden Hazard, before a quick exchange of passes capped a thrilling move.
Hazard laid the ball off to Pedro on the right and continued his forward run, creating a space for Fabregas to run into and collect the first time return before placing his shot beyond Lukasz Fabianski.
The midfielder would have doubled the lead in the 27th minute with an acrobatic volley but for the Swansea keeper’s second outstanding save of the game.
But there seemed little chance the miss would prove costly, with Swansea unable to get out of their own half and Chelsea dominant and apparently on course for a routine victory.
However, the balance of the game changed dramatically in the second minute of first half stoppage-time when the visitors equalised from their first meaningful attack of the game.
And while Llorente deserved credit for the way he directed a powerful header past Thibaut Courtois from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s free-kick, Chelsea’s decision to assign wing-back Victor Moses to the task of marking the tall striker looked questionable.
Having been given a foothold in the game, Swansea approached the second half with more belief, but they were again almost caught out by Fabregas, who drilled a sharp shot against the crossbar seven minutes after the restart.
Having escaped that scare, Clement’s side were left frustrated when Sigurdsson’s attempted cross was blocked by Cesar Azpilicueta’s hand inside the Chelsea area.
The visitors’ appeals for a penalty went unheeded and worse was to come four minutes later when Pedro’s 25-yard shot flew through Fabianski’s weak attempt to save.
And any hope of a Swansea recovery disappeared when Hazard worked his way to the byline before pulling back for Costa to add the 84th minute third.