Demba Ba rescued Chelsea for the second time in a week, scoring the only goal as the Blues won 1-0 at Swansea City on Sunday to keep pace with Liverpool in the Premier League title race.
Ba, who scored the crucial second goal against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday to send Chelsea into the Champions League semi-finals, struck in the 68th minute, finishing from Nemanja Matic's long pass.
Until that point, Chelsea had failed to take advantage of their numerical advantage after Swansea had defender Chico Flores sent off in the 16th minute for his second bookable offence.
With the win, second-placed Chelsea moved onto 75 points, two behind leaders Liverpool, who won 3-2 at home to Manchester City earlier Sunday. Both Chelsea and Liverpool will fancy their chances for the title, with the two sides set to square off in a potential title decider at Anfield on April 27.
While Chelsea continue to chase silverware at home and in Europe, the future remains unclear for their goalscoring hero of the past week. Ba, who joined the Blues from Newcastle in January of 2013, continues to be linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge.
Following Chelsea's win over PSG, the Senegal striker told Sky Sports: "(I)f PSG are looking for someone to play alongside Zlatan (Ibrahimovic), then I'm their man."
Swansea are in 15th place with 33 points, just three points above the relegation zone.
The Swans started brightly and had a chance to go ahead in the third minute, but Petr Cech saved Pablo Hernandez's low shot. Chelsea had a big chance three minutes later as Branislav Ivanovic cut back from the right for Salah, whose low effort just grazed the outside of the post.
Swansea had another chance in the 13th minute, Wilfried Bony flicking a header toward top corner, where Cech batted the ball away. Moments later, though, the Swans went down to 10 men.
In the 16th minute, shortly after being booked, Flores fouled Chelsea's Andre Schurrle along the edge of Swansea's box. After a long deliberation, referee Phil Dowd showed Flores a second yellow and sent off the defender, angering Swansea, who felt Chelsea's players had influenced Dowd's decision.
The sending-off meant Chelsea had a numerical advantage for more than 70 minutes, but for the rest of the first half, the Blues largely failed to create chances. Branislav Ivanovic headed a corner over the bar in the 41st minute, and Salah blazed a shot off target in stoppage time.
Chelsea built momentum in the second half, Ba flashing a header wide in the 56th minute and an unmarked Samuel Eto'o missing the target two minutes later. The goal was coming, however, and the Blues finally went ahead in the 68th minute.
Ba did the honours again, running onto Matic's long ball over the top before holding off Ashley Williams' challenge. From the edge of the box, Ba's low shot slipped under Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm to give Chelsea a 1-0 lead.
Eto'o came close in the 85th minute, rolling a low shot just wide of the far post. Salah then created a moment of danger a minute later, weaving through Swansea's defence before shooting off target.
The second goal never came, but it didn't matter, as Ba's second crucial goal in as many games proved decisive once again.
|Chelsea Player Ratings|
|Oscar (for Ramires, 46')||N/A||6|
|Samuel Eto'o (for Schurrle, 46')||N/A||5|
|John Obi Mikel (for Ba, 79')||N/A||6|
First-team coach Steve Holland filled in for Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho at the post-match press conference. In his remarks, Holland said the Blues' midweek match against PSG in the UEFA Champions League was "draining."
According to PremierLeague.com, Holland said:
I've been here three times with Chelsea without winning before today. Swansea can frustrate you. They're good at retaining possession.
With the game at 0-0, they've got everybody behind the ball every minute of the game. You've got four defenders, four midfielders and one attacker to get through. We had total control of the game, but still had to find a way through. When you do that, the spaces are there.
We played in the Champions League in the week, and it was a physically and emotionally draining game. It was difficult to go again, but we stuck to it and came through.
The title is still in Manchester City's hands if they win all their games. We've still got a Champions League semi-final to look forward to as well. That's what Chelsea are all about, playing in the big games.
In Swansea manager Garry Monk targeted two wins from the Swans' final four league games to avoid relegation.
"We didn't get the result, which is the bottom line. I can't complain about the performance, after going down to 10 so early against a good Chelsea side," Monk said, per PremierLeague.com. "My players were brilliant today, and the crowd were magnificent too."
He added: "It's very tough for us. We're not safe. But if we show that application in our final four games we'll be fine. Two more wins will probably do it for us."
Swansea play at Newcastle United in the Premier League on Saturday. Chelsea host Sunderland the same day.
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