Cesc Fabregas made the most of a rare Chelsea start with a goal and an assist in his 300th English Premier League appearance helping the leaders beat Swansea 3-1 to go 11 points clear on Saturday.
After dislodging Nemanja Matic from the lineup to make only his sixth start in 26 league matches, Fabregas put Chelsea in front in the 19th minute with a deflected shot.
Pedro Rodriguez was the provider and Fabregas returned the favor after Fernando Llorente leveled with a header from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s free kick on the stroke of halftime. Fabregas slotted the ball through for Pedro to curl into the net through goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski’s hands in the 72nd.
Any prospect of a second equalizer for Swansea ended after Diego Costa volleyed in his 16th goal of the league campaign from Eden Hazard’s cutback in the 84th.
For Fabregas it was a third goal of the title challenge on the day he reassured Chelsea that he wasn’t looking to leave despite limited playing time.
“Cesc played a really good game, but it’s important for me to have these solutions … when we need to have a player with more quality (on the ball), and to lose something in height,” Chelsea coach Antonio Conte said. “I’m really pleased to see him in this form despite not starting the last game in the league. This is the right way to continue.”
It was Fabregas’ 102nd assist in a Premier League career that began in 2003 with Arsenal and continued from 2014 with Chelsea after a three-year hiatus at Barcelona. Retired Manchester United great Ryan Giggs is the league’s maestro of assists with 162 and now next on the list is Fabregas – level with former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, whose career was celebrated with a halftime appearance on the Stamford Bridge pitch on Saturday.
The current generation of Chelsea players will surely be parading the Premier League trophy again on the field in May, with Antonio Conte’s side running away with the title despite drawing two of its past four games.
Now it’s about the players staying focused on regaining the silverware it won two years ago under Jose Mourinho.
“To keep the concentration for the whole championship is not easy,” Conte said. “They know very well the way that we must continue to try to stay at the top of the table, to try and win the title. For this reason, I’m lucky. I’m lucky to have a lot of players who, in the past, won a lot.”
More points might have been dropped if defender Cesar Azpilicueta had been penalized for a handball in the second half just before Fabregas provided Pedro’s goal.
But no penalty was awarded, ensuring it was a miserable return to west London for Swansea manager Paul Clement, who was an assistant coach under Carlo Ancelotti when Chelsea won the title in 2010. The south Wales club is three points above the relegation zone.
“I thought it was a penalty,” Clement said. “It’s 1-1 and we had a chance to go to 2-1. On reflection, they’ve had a lot more chances and a lot more of the ball, so probably deserved the victory, but we defended resolutely for long periods, made it difficult.”