Saturday 14th April, St. Mary’s Stadium – Chelsea were away to Southampton for the weekend’s first premier league game. The fixture was a sort of preview of the FA Cup semi-final, which would be played between these two teams in eight days’ time.
Southampton were eighteenth in the league, a long way from their eighth-place finish in the 2016/17 season. They were desperate to get out of the relegation zone. Chelsea were up in fifth on 57 points, more than double their hosts’ points total over the season so far.
In terms of recent form though, Chelsea were struggling. They had only managed three league wins so far in 2018. They had just one win (vs Crystal Palace) and one draw (with West Ham), four points from a possible fifteen in their last five league games.
Southampton were in even worse form, with only two points from two draws with Burnley and Stoke City in their last five, but they’d shown some quality in the 3-2 loss to Arsenal the previous weekend.
Chelsea were in their favoured 3-4-3 formation, with only two changes to the line-up from their game against West Ham. Andreas Christensen replaced Antonio Rudiger in defence, and Davide Zappacosta came in for Victor Moses at right wing back. Ross Barkley had recovered from injury and was on the bench for today’s game.
Mark Hughes made one enforced change to his starting eleven from the previous game – Jan Bednarek came in for Jack Stephens, who was serving a suspension after receiving a red card at the Emirates.
Line-Ups & Ratings
McCarthy 6, Bertrand 7.5, Yoshida 5.5, Hoedt 5.5, Bednarek 7 (Gabbiadini NR), Soares 6, Romeu 6.5, Ward-Prowse 7 (Austin 6), Hojbjerg 7, Tadic 7.5 (Sims 6.5), Long 7
Subs Forster, Sims, McQueen, Lemina, Boufal, Gabbiadini, Austin
Courtois 6.5, Zappacosta 5.5 (Pedro 7), Azpilicueta 6, Christensen 6, Cahill 6, Alonso 7, Kante 7.5, Fabregas 6, Willian 6.5, Hazard 7.5 (Moses 4.5), Morata 4.5 (Giroud 9)
Subs Caballero, Moses, Emerson, Barkley, Bakayoko, Pedro, Giroud
Lack of Urgency
Chelsea played with very little urgency, energy or imagination in the first half. It almost seemed like there was nothing at stake, and their attacking play was limited to a series of hopeful crosses into the box, which their hosts dealt with pretty easily.
By contrast, Southampton started off disciplined and compact, and played like their premier league survival depended on it, which it did. The results were predictable: Chelsea were two goals down within the first hour of the game.
Frankly, Antonio Conte’s side did not benefit from the introduction of Zappacosta for Moses today. Ryan Bertrand had the time of his life on the left wing, and on 21 minutes he created the game’s first goal with one of his marauding runs.
Zappacosta was stranded in an advanced position when Pierre-Emile Hojberg put Bertrand into space with a through ball down the left wing. Cesar Azpilicueta tried to track his run but was beaten for pace, and Bertrand made a cut-back from the byline, which Dusan Tadic finished low past Thibaut Courtois for 1-0.
Southampton might have been awarded a spot kick when Andreas Christensen barged into Shane Long in the box, but the referee let play continue as Long recovered and shot over the bar.
Marcos Alonso could have also been booked or even sent off for treading on Long’s calf in the first half, but Mike Dean seemed not to spot the infringement.
The second goal came exactly on the hour mark. N’golo Kante conceded a free kick on the right wing, and James Ward-Prowse took the resulting free kick, looping it into the box past Gary Cahill for debutant Bednarek to head into the net for 2-0.
The stadium was buzzing now. Conte reacted to the goals by bringing on Pedro and Olivier Giroud to relieve Zappacosta and Alvaro Morata – frankly, they’d been Chelsea’s worst players to that point.
The subs made an immediate impact; Chelsea began to dominate possession and chances, and less than ten minutes after they came on the visitors seized the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring three quick goals in just eight minutes.
Cesc Fabregas passed to the left wing, and Alonso had time and space to swing a deep cross into the box. Giroud delayed his run to stay onside, then stole in between Wesley Hoedt and Maya Yoshida to head the ball into the bottom corner for 2-1.
On 75 minutes Alonso spread the ball out to Willian on the left side of the penalty area, and the Brazilian winger dribbled past Cedric Soares before whipping in a low cross. Hazard took possession just outside the six yard box, and smashed the ball up into the net for 2-2.
Chelsea finished the game off just three minutes later. Oriol Romeu conceded a free kick about thirty yards out from goal, and Willian spotted Hazard completely unmarked on the left of the penalty box and passed to him rather than crossing for a direct header. Hazard lobbed the ball to the far corner, where Christensen and Cahill kept the ball in play, before Giroud volleyed into the bottom corner: winning goal. 3-2.
Josh Sims had a chance to equalize late on, when he left Moses behind to get to a through pass from midfield, but this time Courtois got down smartly to make the save.
Chelsea wound up with the points, 58% of possession and seventeen shots to Southampton’s ten. Nevertheless it was a worrying performance for the West London club; the win was really down to a lack of concentration and quality from the home side.
The visitors showed a marked lack of intent, courage and desire until Giroud and Pedro shocked them to life. Morata, Fabregas, Alonso and even Hazard were especially poor in the first half. Up until Giroud’s goal, Hazard’s main highlight was getting booked for tossing the ball at a Saints player’s face.
Perhaps these were symptoms of the uncertainty (or certainty) around Antonio Conte’s future? Still, a win is a win. Next up for Chelsea, an away game Thursday v Burnley, before playing Southampton again on Sunday in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Final Score Southampton 2-3 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro
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