A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s home Premier League match against Southampton.
2019 kicked off for The Blues with a home Premier League match against Southampton at Stamford Bridge. After 4 wins in their final 5 matches in 2018 and their opponents lying in a lowly 17th place in the league, confidence was high amongst the Chelsea faithful.
Maurizio Sarri made only 1 change from the side that started the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace with Alvaro Morata starting up front in place of Olivier Giroud, who was ruled out because of an ankle injury suffered at Selhurst Park. However, both Cesc Fabregas and Ruben Loftus-Cheek returned to the substitute’s bench after recovering from neck and back injuries respectively. Sadly though, with a catalogue of knocks sustained by mostly attacking players, it was a substitute’s bench that looked very defensive in nature.
Newly appointed manager Ralph Hasenhuttl shuffled his squad and opted for Danny Ings up front, with both Charlie Austin and Shane Long among their substitutes. Former Blue Oriol Romeu started in central midfield, while Champions League winner Ryan Bertrand was still out injured.
Straight from the off the tone of the match was set. The Saints sat deep and allowed Chelsea as much possession as they wanted and they focused on protecting their penalty area. It meant spells with 21 of the players entrenched in one half of the pitch, but there was a lacklustre feel to Chelsea’s play.
Southampton were well organised and very disciplined in defence. It is a ploy used by most teams that The Blues come up against, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. The style of football that Sarri is instilling in to the squad should be more than adequate to overcome. However on this occasion the Chelsea team failed to follow one of the key elements to their manager’s plan.
Their play was very pedestrian. Instead of slick passes between players in constant movement, Chelsea’s possession was predictable and rarely incisive. Even a dogged Southampton side were able to shut them out.
Yes, The Blues maintained over 70% possession and created 17 attempts at goal, but precious few were clear cut and the visitors were able to either block the attacking move or the attempt at goal.
Southampton hardly created any chances themselves. Oriol Romeu had a shot comfortably saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga and David Luiz needed to make an inch perfect last ditch tackle on the lively Stuart Armstrong. But their focus was fully on getting the clean sheet, their first in the Premier League since a goalless draw at home to Newcastle United on 27 October.
However, The Saints also needed some luck. Chelsea’s best 2 chances in the first half were beautifully set up, but weakly finished and debutant Angus Gunn saved both attempts very well. The young keeper was in inspired form during his first Premier League appearance.
Second half saves from Hazard, Morata and Alonso were assisted by the narrowest offside decision and appeals for a penalty being waved away by referee Jonathan Moss. Long gave a slight push into Alonso’s back but the Spaniard took a step before going to ground.
If any of these had fallen in Chelsea’s favour and The Blues would have revelled in all 3 points. But their lethargy and lack of being desperate to take the game by the scruff of the neck meant chances were less likely than they could have been. And once again Sarri appeared to lack a plan b. Admittedly he introduced Cesc Fabregas on 68 minutes and the Spaniard did inject more forward moving passes. This was Fabregas’s 500th appearance in total for English clubs and he nearly made the difference but alas, Chelsea had to endure a second consecutive home match without scoring.
The result was disappointing, but The Blues remain 3 points clear in 4th place as they head into back to back cup matches. Let’s just hope all the injured players can return as soon as possible and the squad can get the club returning to winning ways before Chelsea’s next Premier League fixture, at home to Newcastle United on 12th January.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue