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Conte loses his head but Rudiger uses his to keep Chelsea in title contention

21:41 GMT 29/11/2017
Antonio Conte
The Blues boss was sent to the stands after losing his cool but the centre-back he signed during the summer netted the only goal against Swansea

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte may have got sent to the stands for the first time in his career on Wednesday night but Antonio Rudiger's diving header turned frustration into celebration at Stamford Bridge, as the hosts claimed a crucial 1-0 victory over Swansea.

The sense of relief was almost palpable. The visit of Swansea, the 19th-placed team in the Premier League, had marked the start of a favourable run of 10 games up until the end of the year. Seven of them, including both cup matches are at home, while five are against teams placed 14th or lower in the table.

Victory over the Swans, therefore, was considered essential in Chelsea's bid to cut into Manchester City's lead at the summit of the standings. However, it didn't come easily.

Chelsea struggled terribly to break their Welsh opponents down and it clearly got to Conte, whose frustration manifested itself in a remarkable touchline outburst.

The volatile Italian had felt that his side should have been awarded a corner when a Willian cross appeared to come off Mike van der Hoorn. Referee Neil Swarbrick decided otherwise, though, ruling that the last touch had come from Pedro. Not only was the decision wrong but Conte perceived his opponents to be time wasting.  

Conte was livid and his angry confrontation with the fourth official, Lee Mason, led to his first sending off as Chelsea manager.

In truth, Conte was probably more upset with his players, who had looked devoid of invention in the opening half against a Swansea side who exhibited no attacking intentions. Indeed, they even manage a shot on goal until the 66th minute, having clearly come for a scoreless draw.

In that context, Conte may also have been frustrated with his own decision to leave Eden Hazard out of his starting linen-up, given how toothless the home side looked without the brilliant Belgian.

Willian performed fairly well in one of three forward roles but Pedro and Alvaro Morata weren't as effective as they should have been against a poor team.

As a result, it was left to a defender to decide the game in Chelsea's favour, with Rudiger display the skills he had learned in his youth as a striker by reacting rapidly to a deflected shot from N'Golo Kante to head home at the back post 10 minutes into the second half.

At the end of the day, Conte will be pleased with the three points but he will doubtless be concerned by a performance that was far from complete. Morata continues to look like a striker who has good days and bad days, while Pedro's injury-hit season seems to have affected him. 

On the positive side, Chelsea managed to rest Hazard and Cesar Azpilicueta for their upcoming games against Newcastle United and Atletico Madrid, while Victor Moses made his comeback, coming on for Zappacosta in the 74th minute.

Furthermore, while the winner represented Rudiger's first Premier League goal of the season, it was Chelsea's eighth headed goal of the current campaign, which is more than any other side.

Conte apologised to both the referee and the fourth official after the game. He also leaves Stamford Bridge feeling positive with his side's showing. 

"This type of game, you are able to score early, otherwise you must have a lot of patience to try the best way to score. At the same time, you must pay attention for the counter attack. This type of game, the desire to win, you have a lot of desire to win.

"Then you want to try to attack with all the players and sometimes you lose your balance. My players never lost their balance, they played an intelligent game, good win. We must be very good also to win this type of game.

"My feeling now is we are better than before, when we started this season. We started this season with many problems. Now we are trying to solve these problems. I think now we are improving. We are trying another system of play. And I had the possibility to alternate these two systems. These are good options for me."

So, credit to the Blues' players: on a night on which Conte lost his head, they once again used theirs!