The headlines will be that Chelsea sent a four-goal warning to Monaco, but this game had such an end-of-season feel about it that it’s difficult to imagine it augurs much of anything for next Wednesday.
Certainly, if Monaco bring as weak a team as that put out by Southampton today then we should advance to the Champions League final, but it’s difficult to imagine even Luxemburg could field as soft a line-up. That it took 58 minutes for Chelsea to break through was down to the familiar tale of poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping.
Jesper Gronkjaer ranged down the right side as if there was no defender against him and 18-year-old Crainey, making his league debut, will have nightmares about this game. Not only was he beaten by trickery and pace almost every time, but it was his head that finally broke the spell cast on the Saints goal.
The first half was astonishingly goalless as Chelsea rained crosses and corners into the Southampton box with no reward. The Saints played a 3-5-2 and Chelsea tried to use the huge spaces down the flanks behind the Saints midfield. Gronkjaer and Melchiot ran riot on the right behind Crainey, but Cole and Bridge made little impression on the left.
Despite the pressure, Niemi did everything right, his best save a tip over from a Joe Cole blast on 27 minutes.
Carlo Cudicini, back after his broken hand, was hardly troubled although when he was brought into action he was jittery, unconvincingly pushing out a Beattie free kick and dropping a simple catch in his box.
Absurd whispers about Ranieri trying to sabotage his own team recently were put to rest at the start of the second half when he left Gronkjaer on the field. The Dane had been unstoppable in the first half and his crosses were mostly decent, certainly far better than Hasselbaink’s corners.
The second half resumed as the first had ended with Chelsea playing some delightful football until the move required a shot. Hasselbaink was sent clear by Gudjohnsen, who had a great game, but dawdled so long that a covering defender was able to make up yards to block his shot. I’m afraid Jimmy’s speed of thought and movement is no longer good enough for him to stay next season.
Still the goal would not come and several fast moves came to a shuddering halt when Joe Cole over-elaborated on the ball taking momentum out of the attack.
Then Chelsea found a formula that was to work for the first two goals — present Southampton with golden opportunities and then hit them on the break.
The first present was from John Terry who nodded back towards his own goal sending Phillips through on goal with Cudicini stranded in no-man’s land. An awful lob by the Saint was gratefully clasped by Cudicini who sent Chelsea off on a counter-attack to win another corner.
This time JFK’s near post delivery was just missed by Gudjohnsen, but struck Crainey’s head and bulleted in at the near post.
The teenage defender was finally substituted by Fernandes, but it didn’t stop Gronkjaer’s one-man wrecking act, but no blue shirt took advantage of the stream of opportunities.
So it was time for the second present. This time Melchiot nodded absently back to Cudicini and Ormerod slipped in to blast a shot against the goalie. The rebound was swept up field and JFH flicked Gudjohnsen through on the left. The Icelander wrong-footed a defender but was tackled as he shot, the rebound falling to Lampard who fired the awkwardly bouncing ball past Niemi.
The game was now over as a contest and Glen Johnson came on for Gronkjaer and Cole was replaced by Veron, who must have heard the boos.
Southampton were also making their own substitutions, throwing on attackers and the floodgates opened. Lampard scored his second after good work by Hasselbaink and Johnson wrong-footed Niemi after a wonderful move between Hasselbaink and Gudjohnsen.
Lampard went off, Makelele came on and as quiet a 4-0 win as you can imagine quietly ended.