Sunday 22nd April, Wembley Stadium – It was beautiful sunny weather at Wembley, as Chelsea lined up against Southampton for the second time in eight days. The game was this weekend’s second FA Cup semi-final; Manchester United having dispatched Tottenham Hotspur pretty handily, with a 2-1 win in the first.
Southampton were struggling to avoid relegation from the Premier League, but they had done pretty well so far in the FA Cup. They’d beaten Fulham (1-0), Watford (1-0), West Bromwich Albion (2-1) and Wigan Athletic (2-0) to make it to the semi-final stage.
The Saints also had some history in this competition, having won it in 1976. Today though they were up against seven-time winners Chelsea FC. Mark Hughes was going to need a gritty, disciplined performance from his team today, to get past Chelsea to the final.
Since the last rollercoaster meeting between these two teams, Chelsea had earned a creditable 2-1 away win against Burnley, and Southampton had kept their first clean sheet in four games in a goalless draw with Leicester City.
Hughes switched Mario Lemina and Charlie Austin into the starting line-up for James Ward-Prowse and Dusan Tadic, in the only two changes since the Leicester game.
Antonio Conte reverted from the 3-5-2 against Burnley to Chelsea’s usual 3-4-3 formation, and brought in Willy Caballero, Cesc Fabregas, Willian and Eden Hazard for Thibaut Courtois, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Pedro and Alvaro Morata respectively.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Caballero 7.5, Moses 6.5, Azpilicueta 8, Cahill 7, Rudiger 6, Emerson 6.5, Kante 7.5, Fabregas 7 (Pedro 5.5), Willian 6.5 (Bakayoko 5.5), Hazard 8.5, Giroud 8.5 (Morata 8)
Subs Eduardo, Zappacosta, Christensen, Barkley, Bakayoko, Pedro, Morata
McCarthy 6, Bertrand 7, Yoshida 6.5, Hoedt 6, Bednarek 6.5 (Gabbiadini 6), Soares 6, Romeu 6, Lemina 6, Hojbjerg 6.5 (Tadic 6), Long 7 (Redmond 7), Austin 7.5
Subs Forster, Carrillo, McQueen, Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Tadic, Gabbiadini
Goalless First Half
Southampton made the first chance six minutes in, but Charlie Austin put his shot wide under heavy pressure from Antonio Rudiger. A minute later Chelsea were storming up the pitch on the counter: Eden Hazard spread the ball out to the right wing, and Willian cut in and rocketed a powerful shot off the cross bar.
Maya Yoshida stopped a shot from Hazard in the six-yard box, after some great hold up play and a low cross from Olivier Giroud. Soon afterwards, Mario Lemina shot straight at Caballero after Southampton lifted possession off Hazard in midfield.
Fabregas put a beautiful long ball into the box for Olivier Giroud, but the French international’s first touch lifted the ball into the air; he tried for an acrobatic finish but his volley went wide.
The teams went into the break goalless. Chelsea had enjoyed more possession and chances, but Southampton had been successful so far at preventing their opponents from converting dominance into goals.
Giroud’s Good Habits
Antonio Conte was probably dissatisfied with his team’s first half performance. His team talk might have had an effect though, because Chelsea were a goal up within a minute of the restart.
Fabregas scooped another luscious long ball from midfield to the edge of the box, and Hazard did very well to bring the ball down under pressure from Yoshida and Jan Bednarek, then pass into space ahead of Olivier Giroud.
Giroud still had a ton to do, but he did it perfectly, skipping a Lemina tackle before dribbling past Soares, Yoshida, Bednarek and keeper Alex McCarthy, then toe-poking the ball into the corner for 1-0. It was Giroud’s third Chelsea goal in two games against the Saints.
Hazard had a fantastic fast break chance to make it two shortly afterwards, but he curled his finish just wide of the far post.
Southampton might have equalized when Wesley Hoedt played a long pass up the pitch from the left wing. Charlie Austin let the ball run past him to put Shane Long one-on-one with Caballero, but Long’s first touch knocked the ball completely out of play. Antonio Rudiger had failed to track Long’s run and would have been at fault if the chance was converted.
Charlie Austin got a header off from a Southampton corner, but Caballero saved at the near post. Soon afterwards, Nathan Redmond stole possession off Fabregas on the edge of the area and unleashed a thunderous shot, but again Caballero parried it out of play.
Austin almost forced a goal off another corner, but Caballero hooked the ball off the line, even as Martin Atkinson called a foul for Austin backing into the keeper.
Moses squared a pass to Hazard on the edge of the area, but Hazard’s shot was straight at McCarthy and he put it out for a corner.
Yoshida almost turned a Hazard cross into his own goal, but fortunately for him the ball went off the post and out for another corner.
Morata Settles The Game
Alvaro Morata was subbed in with just ten minutes left to play. He replaced Giroud, who’d taken a knock in an earlier collision with ex-Chelsea midfielder Oriol Romeu. And a little over a minute after coming on, Morata scored.
Manolo Gabbiadini was slow to close down Cesar Azpilicueta out on the right, and he hung a cross out to the far post for partner-in-crime Morata, who got past Hoedt to head the ball off the pitch and into the net for 2-0.
Southampton reacted instantly to the goal, and they almost caught Chelsea’s defence sleeping. Ryan Bertrand lost Moses and curled a low cross in across goal. Gabbiadini could not get to the ball, but Austin whipped it back from the far post, into the opposite upright and out again.
As the Saints came forward, Chelsea began to take advantage on the counter. Hazard got to the by-line and cut back to Morata. The Spanish striker beat the keeper again with his shot, but this time Hoedt was in position to clear the ball off the line.
Azpilicueta found Morata again with a long ball from midfield, but McCarthy reacted very well to save his shot.
Hazard put another low cross into the six-yard box in the final minute of extra time. Hoedt almost redirected into his own net, but McCarthy saved again at point blank range.
One Game Left
As expected, the Blues made it past the Saints to set up an FA Cup final with Manchester United. And next up, Chelsea play relegation-threatened Swansea City, in the first of four games to close out the 2017/18 season. Southampton continue their own bid to avoid the drop with a home game against AFC Bournemouth.
Final Score Chelsea 2-0 Southampton
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro
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