Rudiger takes advantage of rare start by scoring Chelsea's winner vs. Swans
Chelsea huffed and puffed their way to a workmanlike 1-0 victory over Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday in a game short on inspiration and heavy on perspiration. Marauding centre-back Antonio Rudiger scored the Blues' winner, with the Germany international managing to do what striker Alvaro Morata should have done on numerous occasions: beat Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski with what was a fine headed goal.
Chelsea looked rock solid at the back. That Swansea failed to get a shot on target owed much to the industry of N'Golo Kante in midfield, the awareness of centre-back Andreas Christensen and the robust mobility of Rudiger and skipper Gary Cahill.
Despite enjoying copious amounts of possession, without the skills of Eden Hazard -- rested on the bench for the majority of the match by Antonio Conte -- Chelsea lacked the incisiveness that has been a feature of their play recently, and Morata's game suffered also as a consequence.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Facing a congested fixture schedule, Conte opted to rest versatile defensive stalwart Cesar Azpilicueta and talismanic playmaker Hazard. The Italian deserves applause for doing so. Getting sent to the stands before the break by referee Neil Swarbrick for disputing a corner decision was less admirable and a measure perhaps of the frustration the Italian was feeling at his side's inability to breach Fabianski's goal.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Didn't have a save to make but put on an exemplary display of clean catching and distribution. Always well-positioned on the rare occasions that Swansea threatened Chelsea's goal.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 9 -- Rudiger has been used sparingly by Conte for Premier League fixtures, but the Germany international provided a timely reminder of the ability he possesses as both defender and attacker with a standout tough-tackling performance and a match-winning headed goal.
DF Andreas Christensen, 8 -- Christensen simply oozes class and displays a maturity way beyond his 21 years. Another cultured display that embraced vision along with belt-and-braces defending.
DF Gary Cahill, 7 -- Solid uncompromising performance from the Chelsea skipper, personifying a player whose confidence has returned.
DF Davide Zappacosta, 6 -- Saw plenty of the ball on the right flank but was culpable of overrunning with it on too many occasions to pose a major threat. Did provide a couple of decent balls into the box for Pedro and Morata, which were squandered. Withdrawn for the final phase of the game as Victor Moses returned to the position he made his own last season.
DF Marcos Alonso, 7 -- Similarly to Zappacosta, Alonso saw plenty of the ball and worked it to his teammates in plenty of good areas but could only look on at the wastefulness that ensued.
MF N'Golo Kante, 8 -- A dominant performance from the France international who monopolised midfield. As well as shielding Chelsea's backline, Kante carried the ball forward supremely well. It was a deflected shot from the 24-year-old that Rudiger headed home for the winner.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 7 -- Enjoyed a lot of set-piece action as Chelsea dominated possession, winning a string of corners. Played some decent give-and-go football with Pedro and Willian and worked well alongside Kante in the hub of Chelsea's midfield.
FW Willian, 8 -- Another impressive performance from the Brazil international, who caused Swansea's backline plenty of problems. Saw a trademark free kick whistle just wide of the upright, and but for Fabianski being in outstanding form would have found the net with a shot from distance.
FW Pedro, 7 -- Full of running, Pedro was able to get into some good goal-scoring positions, which should have seen him profit from chances created for him by Zappacosta and Willian. Unfortunately, a combination of poor finishing and Fabianski's brilliance resulted in the Spaniard blanking, and he was withdrawn late on to be replaced by Hazard.
FW Alvaro Morata, 6 -- On what was a bitterly cold evening at the Bridge, Morata struggled to get into the game and seemed reluctant to over-extend himself when the ball was crossed into the box. Drew a couple of decent saves from Fabianski but missed the presence of Hazard.
DF Victor Moses, NR -- Came on for the final phase of the game at right wing-back but looked distinctly rusty and will need to improve markedly to be considered for a starting berth.
FW Eden Hazard, NR -- A delightful jinking cameo for the final 10 minutes was enough evidence to suggest that Chelsea would have won by far more than one goal had the Belgium international started the game.
MF Danny Drinkwater, NR -- Added fresh legs late on and helped quell a spirited late surge by Swansea.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco