Fernando Torres’ mixed fortunes continued as he found the net before seeing red for an ugly challenge in Chelsea’s comfortable Barclays Premier League victory over Swansea.
Sunday’s defeat at Manchester United had seen £50million man Torres score for only the second time in his Blues career before producing one of the worst open-goal gaffes in Premier League history.
He scored today with another fine finish before seeing red for inexplicably diving in studs first on Mark Gower in between a Ramires brace, which was followed by Ashley Williams’ consolation and a comeback goal for Didier Drogba.
But being down to 10 men for more than half a game for the second time in four days – Chelsea suffered the same fate in their midweek Carling Cup win over Fulham – was hardly ideal preparation for Wednesday’s Champions League showdown in Valencia.
Torres’ dismissal also meant a three-match domestic ban and ensured he would once again make headlines for the wrong reasons, despite beginning to repay his record-breaking transfer fee in earnest.
Frank Lampard starting on the bench today was also a talking point, although the midfielder played 76 minutes on Wednesday night.
He looked certain to start at Valencia, emphasising that, at 33, he was being held back more and more for the big games.
Chelsea’s bid to close the five-point gap to United did not begin well, with the hosts outplayed by the visitors in the opening 15 minutes.
Raul Meireles volleyed over when well-placed and Ramires had a close-range shot blocked but Chelsea were failing to replicate the beautiful game Villas-Boas insisted they had produced last weekend.
Torres was also struggling to repeat his Old Trafford exploits, where his horror miss marred what was otherwise his best performance in a Chelsea shirt.
That changed in dramatic fashion in the 29th minute when Juan Mata chipped a ball over the top and Angel Rangel played Torres onside, allowing him to swivel and find the bottom corner.
Mata was needlessly booked for hauling back Rangel, with Williams close to converting the resultant free-kick.
But Chelsea’s scintillating football finally arrived nine minutes from half-time when a sweeping breakaway saw Ashley Cole pick out Ramires, who drilled the ball through Michael Vorm’s legs.
But Torres then undid all his good work when he was sent off three minutes later for a shocking tackle on Gower.
Referee Mike Dean had no choice but to show red for the challenge, despite it appearing more clumsy than malicious.
Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers, who enjoyed a pre-match ovation on his return to the club where he was reserve-team boss for four years, threw on Wayne Routledge for Leon Britton during the interval.
The visitors laid siege to the Chelsea goal after the restart as Meireles almost slid the ball into his own net, the livewire Nathan Dyer saw his shot deflect off John Obi Mikel and loop onto the crossbar, and Williams misdirected a header from the resultant corner.
A desperate challenge from Mikel prevented Leroy Lita converting Rangel’s cross and the subsequent corner was headed goalward by Williams, only for Jose Bosingwa to clear off the line.
Dyer was booked for felling Anelka as Chelsea broke and Ramires also volleyed wide before Mata was withdrawn for Florent Malouda and the fit-again Danny Graham came on for Lita just before the hour mark.
Anelka almost scored a superb individual goal after being allowed to carry the ball 25 yards before unleashing a piledriver against the bar.
Chelsea began to cope with their man disadvantage, as they had against Fulham on Wednesday, forcing Swansea to introduce Stephen Dobbie for Dyer.
Garry Monk was booked for tripping Anelka 15 minutes from time and the 10 men made it 3-0 a minute later, Ramires too easily cutting inside Williams before passing the ball beyond Vorm.
Drogba made his long-awaited return from his sickening head injury for the final 11 minutes as Anelka was withdrawn.
Josh McEachran also replaced Ramires before Swansea finally netted in the 86th minute, the unmarked Williams heading home his first Premier League goal from Gower’s free-kick.
Vorm saved well from Malouda, Williams went close to nodding in his second in stoppage time and Ramires dragged a hat-trick chance wide before Drogba turned on Malouda’s pass and steered the ball beyond Vorm to add gloss to the scoreline.