Chelsea boosted their hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League as they fought back from a goal down to record a controversial 2-1 victory over relegation-threatened Cardiff City on Sunday that left Neil Warnock raging.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek headed in Willian’s cross in the first of seven additional minutes as the Blues – insipid for so much of the contest until the arrival of Eden Hazard off the bench – produced an impressive turnaround at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Víctor Camarasa had reacted quickly to sweep home Harry Arter’s weak cross to open the scoring early in the second half, but the Welsh club were unable to cling on to their lead during a dramatic conclusion.
Cesar Azpilicueta’s 84th-minute header dragged Chelsea level, though replays showed the defender was in an offside position when turning the ball home.
Substitute Loftus-Cheek then nodded in a much-needed winner for Maurizio Sarri, who had listened to a section of the travelling fans chant for him to be sacked earlier in proceedings.
The result means Chelsea move level on 60 points with Arsenal in the table, a point behind fourth-placed Manchester United in the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
As for third-bottom Cardiff, they remain in deep trouble in the relegation zone, five points behind nearest rivals Burnley and Southampton.
The manner of the defeat visibly annoyed manager Warnock, who exchanged words with opposite number Sarri before heading out onto the pitch at full-time to stare down referee Craig Pawson and his assistants.
What does it mean? Sarri spared by subs
Chelsea’s win could prove telling in the final reckoning, but in the short term their fightback at least eased the pressure on their Italian coach.Sarri gambled with his team selection, once again leaving out Callum Hudson-Odoi as the England international joined Hazard and N’Golo Kante on the bench, but was spared by the impact of another substitute, Loftus-Cheek, in added time.
It may still be that the Europa League offers Chelsea their best chance to qualify for next season’s Champions League, but a loss in the Welsh capital was a result Sarri could ill-afford as he battles to show he is worth persevering with beyond his debut campaign.
Hazard sparks his side into life
Following his introduction after 53 minutes, Chelsea’s influential playmaker had 49 total touches and created a solitary chance. He did not score or provide an assist for his team, but his presence on the pitch resuscitated a limp performance. Sarri will think twice before leaving him out of the starting line-up in future.
VAR from good news for Bluebirds
Spare a thought for Cardiff. Had technology been in use this season, Azpilicueta’s equaliser would not have counted. Warnock will no doubt remind those that will listen how his team were dealt a cruel and unfair blow in their survival bid.
Key Opta Facts
– Chelsea have now scored 18 goals in the final 15 minutes of Premier League matches this season, no club in the competition has managed more (also Liverpool).
– Six of the eight Premier League points Chelsea have won from losing positions this season have come home and away versus Cardiff.
– Azpilicueta is the 14th different player to score for Chelsea in the Premier League this season – only Man Utd (15) have had more different scorers in 2018-19.
Both teams are in action on Wednesday. While Chelsea welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to Stamford Bridge, Cardiff face a daunting trip to reigning champions Manchester City.
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