Another Tactical Masterclass from Benitez
Rafael Benitez took the decision to rotate the starting line up for our match with Southampton in view of our FA cup quarterfinal replay with Manchester United on Monday. He may well be regretting that decision now after a lacklustre performance at St Marys left us with no points and sees us drop to fourth in the table.
Ashley Cole, Hazard, Mata, Ramires and Ba were left out, although it later transpired that Mata was unavailable through illness. But even with the changes, there was no excuse for Chelsea. It was a woeful performance. Southampton played much the better football for the majority of the match, and their goal was only threatened on the odd occasion.
We began the match on the back foot, another characteristically slow start from Chelsea. Puncheon testing check in the opening ten minutes, and Ivanovic called on to block a goal bound Lambert shot. Southampton looked comfortable in possession and moved the ball much better than we did. They looked like a much better side than the one that we played on our last visit to this ground in the FA cup third round. Their midfield was assured on the ball, and aided by Schneiderlin dropping deeper from his role behind their centre forward Lambert to pick the ball up, they enjoyed a higher percentage of possession. Their three players behind Lambert all interchanged positions in what looked like a much better drilled and organised side under the management of Pochettino than it was under Adkins. It was good link up play between Steven Davies and Jay Rodriguez that created the opener. Rodriguez drifted inside from his left wing position, and played a slick one-two with Davies. Ivanovic didnt track the run, and Rodriguez fired low past Cech into the far bottom corner.
We had got into decent positions on occasions in the opening half hour, mainly down the right with Moses looking dangerous, but our build up wasnt as measured as Southamptons. Moses managed to win a corner not long after we had gone behind, and Marin delivered a great ball in from the right to be met by the head of Terry. 1-1. Giving John Terry that sort of space in the box is criminal, and he duly powered his header into the bottom corner.
Somewhat unbelievably, we were to go behind straight away. Southamptons first attack after conceding was a long ball forward to Davies, 25 yards from our area, he was carelessly pushed in the back by Ivanovic, having what can only be described as a shocker at centre back, giving Lambert an opportunity from the resulting free kick. Lambert curled it right footed into the right hand corner, leaving Cech with no chance. We would have to come from behind again. Unfortunately, from here on in this never really looked like happening. Throughout the remainder of the first half and all of the second, Our only tactics as directed by Benitez seemed to be for Terry and Ivanovic to hit long balls down field for Torres, or as I prefer to call it, give the ball to the opposition. This complete lack of ideas from an attacking viewpoint was so frustrating to watch, especially with the likes of Hazard sitting on the bench.
Hazard did make an entry into proceedings with half an hour to go, but the tactics didnt seem to change other than for the odd decent attack, where we managed to keep the ball on the floor and move it wide. Hazard himself managed to get behind the saints defence, flashing a low cross along the six yard box, but it evaded the on rushing Lampard and Moses. It was Moses who had our best chance to equalise in the second half, the ball finding its way to him in the box to the right of the penalty spot. His right foot volley on the turn took a deflection, looping up and touched onto the bar and over by Kelvin Davis, who had replaced the injured Artur Boruc in the Southampton goal at half time. Our best chances in the last 15 minutes were when Moses or Hazard were found out wide, but this happened all to infrequently, and for the most part the long ball game continued.
Benitez is going to need a better master plan than that to defeat Manchester United in the FA cup, let alone guide us to a top four finish in the league.
Boruc; (Davis 46); Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw; Cork, S.Davis, (Fox 85); Puncheon, (Ward-Prowse 62), Schneiderlin, Rodriguez; Lambert.
Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Terry*, Bertrand; Mikel, (Ramires 71), Lampard; Moses, Oscar, (Benayoun 76), Marin, (Hazard 60), Torres