Frank Lampard closes in on Bobby Tambling's Chelsea record
Chelsea 2 Swansea City 0: After being stranded on 200 Chelsea goals for six weeks, Frank Lampard moved within one of Bobby Tambling's club record on Sunday with the second goal of a very comfortable defeat of Swansea City.
Lampard's penalty came three minutes after Oscar had put Chelsea ahead just before half-time. All it took was those two swift attacks to move the Blues back up to third place in the Premier League, one point ahead of Arsenal and three clear of Tottenham Hotspur.
In the 43 minutes before that brief burst, and the 45 after, this was an afternoon of serene strolling control for Chelsea, who dominated possession against a Swansea side not desperate to make life difficult for them.
The last time Swansea were here, nearly four months ago, they won 2-0 in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg. This game was almost the exact opposite of that, not just in the scoreline, but in terms of the gentle atmosphere and lack of tension.
Even the return of referee Mark Clattenburg to Stamford Bridge, six months after he was accused of using a racial slur – an accusation of which he was cleared – did not add any edge to proceedings. Ramires shook Clattenburg's hand before the game and he went on to referee with caution and discretion, arguably being too generous in keeping Cesar Azpilicueta and Ashley Williams on the pitch in the second half.
Rafael Benitez, though, was just pleased with another job well done, a sixth straight home league win coming in between the two legs of a Europa League semi-final with Basel.
"Always to win is good," said the Chelsea interim manager afterwards. "Two goals and a clean sheet, and at this stage of the season with so many games. To play so much good football in attack, with a combination of these players, we were really pleased."
For all of the drama and unpleasantness of this season at Chelsea, they are now well placed, with a game in hand on Arsenal and with Spurs still to come to Stamford Bridge. They are playing better than either of their London rivals and, barring a collapse, should certainly qualify for next year's Champions League.
"Maybe it will go to the last game," said Benitez. "If nothing happens difficult or special, it could be until the last game against Everton. We have to do our job, manage the squad, playing this attacking football we played in the second half with combinations; we'll be OK."
The first 40 minutes of Chelsea's display was one of steadily finding their rhythm, building up slowly before they went ahead. Eden Hazard and Juan Mata were brought in, having not started in Switzerland, and both were lively, Hazard and Demba Ba forcing Michel Vorm into early saves.
Lampard did not start but he replaced Ramires after 24 minutes and added more drive through the middle. His powerful low shot won a corner which Gary Cahill – making his first start for six weeks – headed over. The next minute, though, Lampard helped Chelsea into the lead.
He took the ball from John Terry, briskly exchanged passes with David Luiz and deftly touched it on to Oscar on the edge of the box. In too much space, the Brazilian struck the ball into the far bottom corner.
The move was worthy of a goal and so was the next one, three minutes later, in first-half added time. Mata, awarded Chelsea's Player of the Season honour before kick-off, played the ball to Hazard, went for the return pass and was tripped by Leon Britton. Clattenburg awarded the penalty, Lampard took it and found his favourite corner.
Lampard now has, presuming Chelsea are not beaten on Thursday, six games in May to catch or beat Tambling's record. Tambling was cheered onto the pitch yesterday as the half-time guest and Lampard said last night he was an inspiration in his push for the target.
"Bobby is an absolute gentleman," said the veteran midfielder. "I'm glad he was healthy enough to be here and it was nice to see him. There could not be more of a gentleman to hold that record. It would have been great to [match the record] in front of him but it doesn't work that way."
Lampard is hopeful that he will make history again before the season is out. "I try for it not to be on my mind because people are talking about it. If I am confident and playing regularly and training hard the goals will come."
The Swansea manager Michael Laudrup, who knows a fair bit about playing at the top level, recognised Lampard's threat throughout. "Quality is always quality, when you have it you will always have it," he said. "We all get older, but he's coming into the box, as he has always done, causing problems."
Lampard and Chelsea did not need to do too much in the second half. Ba had three shots saved by Vorm but had Chelsea desperately needed a third they probably would have scored it. Swansea nearly made one or two chances, with Terry not looking quite sharp enough at the heart of the home defence for the England recall he is keen on.
Laudrup had to admit that his team, without a league win in six, have lost some sharpness.
"It is not the first time I have said it, but the last pass, the last finish, has to be with a little bit more quality," he said. "What is incredible is that after the last month and a half without a win, we're still ninth."
Belfast Telegraph Digital