Diego Costa rescues point in spectacular style but Chelsea surrender 100 per cent winning start

Chelsea’s perfect start was ended in improbable fashion, albeit with a hint of the familiar.
SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Gary Cahill (r) fail to stop the second Swansea goal scored by Leroy Fer (not pictured) during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11: Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Gary Cahill (r) fail to stop the second Swansea goal scored by Leroy Fer (not pictured) during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

And then there was one. The Premier League had three 100 per cent records before this weekend. Manchester United lost theirs as Manchester City preserved their own. Chelsea’s was ended in improbable fashion, albeit with a hint of the familiar.

They began last season with a 2-2 draw against Swansea City. Their first match that failed to yield all three points of this campaign occurred courtesy of the same scoreline. A year ago, their title defence was curtailed before it began. This brought a dent in a putative challenge and a first setback for Antonio Conte. This is a new era, but there were common denominators with the past and not just because 10 of his side began for Jose Mourinho 13 months ago. Thibaut Courtois, sent off against Swansea in August 2015, endured another game to forget. He was booked and conceded a penalty for Swansea’s equaliser, the first of two goals in three minutes.

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Controversy seems to stalk these sides’ meetings. Three years ago, Eden Hazard was dismissed for kicking a ball boy. This time, Chelsea were aggrieved Leroy Fer was not penalised for fouling Gary Cahill before he ran away to put Swansea ahead. “A very bad decision,” said Conte, criticising referee Andre Marriner. But Cahill was also culpable. His poor first touch invited a challenge from Fer and, while Courtois took the sting out of the Dutchman’s shot, it nonetheless rolled over the line. It was ill timed: in the context of the game and a club where Conte has acquired a new £30 million centre-back. David Luiz was an unused substitute as Cahill floundered and, while scarcely a byword for flawlessness, the newcomer presents an expensive alternative. Perhaps he will be reprieved: John Terry left the ground on crutches and Luiz could come in for him.

Damage was done to defenders and a defensive record alike. Chelsea dominated for large swathes. They had 28 attempts but procured a solitary point. They possessed the game’s most muscular, menacing presence. Swansea are favourite opponents of Diego Costa, if not all of his Chelsea colleagues. He has faced them in four league games and scored seven goals. The sixth was steered past Lukasz Fabianski after Oscar found him. The precision of his pass formed a contrast with Swansea’s wastefulness: Federico Fernandez, with a poor header, had spurned a chance to clear.

• In pictures: Chelsea draw 2-2 with Swansea

The seventh was spectacular, Costa swivelling to execute an overhead kick after Branislav Ivanovic’s blocked shot fell his way. Fine finishes sandwiched a strange miss, the Spaniard skewing wide from four yards. It was a rare misstep. He gave the Swansea defence a torrid time. Fernandez and Jordi Amat were both booked for fouling him, and Conte was annoyed the latter, who also upended Ivanovic, was not dismissed. Costa collected his usual yellow card, too, but, sluggish against Swansea at the start of last season when, by his own admission, he was overweight, he looks fighting fit now. He spared his manager a first defeat.

Conte has spent his early weeks in England re-enacting Serie A tactical battles, first with Walter Mazzarri and now Francesco Guidolin. The Swansea manager dispensed with wingers and introduced a back three. The acceptance it was a mistake came before half-time, with a change of shape and introduction of forward Modou Barrow. Neil Taylor, the man removed, was visibly unhappy but Guidolin apologised to the left-back and his rethink proved a success. Barrow justified his introduction.

He led a swift counter-attack, directing a diagonal ball towards the box. Courtois lunged at Gylfi Sigurdsson, catching him with his left foot. The Icelander duly beat the Belgian from the penalty spot. Then Cahill blundered. Then Costa equalised. Cue a frantic finale when Fabianski denied him a winner and Hazard resorted to chopping Barrow down to halt Swansea. But whereas Conte’s reign began with two late deciders, his side could not record a third. Swansea, once again, had frustrated Chelsea.

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Published: September 11, 2016 04:00 AM

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