Flicking through tomorrow’s papers and seeing the stats would excuse anyone for thinking that this was an even encounter with a draw the most likely result. Nine shots to seven, and just one on target apiece, suggests an equality seen only in print, as the action on the pitch was anything but.
Chelsea travelled to St Mary’s to face a Southampton side who have once again found their feet after a recent rough patch. After practically selling everything but their white stripes to Liverpool in the summer, The Saints were expected to struggle. Under the stewardship of Ronald Koeman they have, however, surprised most and have ended 2014 occupying the final Champions League spot. This of course means nothing in December, but is usually celebrated wildly in North London in May.
With Southampton having already picked up 20 points at home this season, the match would be a real test of Chelsea’s away form which has been nowhere near as impressive as that seen at Stamford Bridge so far. It was therefore vitally important that Chelsea kept things tight and didn’t concede an early goal, but just after the quarter of an hour mark the otherwise flawless John Terry stepped up to play offside as Dusan Tadic clipped a delightful through ball over the top of the Blues’ defence. Neither the captain nor any of his outfield team mates had a prayer of catching Sadio Mane and as Courtois raced out, the Senegalese cleverly flicked a delicate lob past the Belgian before he had any chance to react. Southampton’s solitary shot on target, Southampton’s goal.
With Manchester City closing the gap on the league leaders on a weekly basis the remainder of the match would be an insightful test of the mentality of Mourinho’s side but despite seeing much of the ball the Blues seemed resigned to being behind at the break.
That was until Cesc Fabregas sent Eden Hazard away down the left with an awful lot to do, but the Belgian cut inside evading a couple of last ditch attempts at tackles and fired a low shot into Forster’s far corner. Chelsea’s solitary shot on target, Chelsea’s goal. 1-1 at half time.
Willian replaced the lacklustre Schürrle at the break and as Chelsea cranked up the pressure in the second half the Brazilian seemed to be part of every attack, offering himself as an option time and time again. More goals in his game and he wouldn’t be coming on from the bench anywhere near as often.
Chelsea’s matches throughout December have seen multiple accusations of play-acting pointed towards the Blues and 10 minutes into the second half suspicions were again raised as Fabregas was felled in the area by Targett. Referee Anthony Taylor booked the Spaniard for a dive despite replays showing a clear foul.
The remainder of the match followed a rigid pattern, plenty of Chelsea possession and pressure met with resilient last ditch Southampton defending. The organisation and work ethic of the home team was admirable as the Blues tried in vain to find a winner. Half chances came and went as the Saint’s defenders got a toe on every loose ball in the area, sending it upfield and regrouping as it was brought straight back under another wave of Chelsea pressure.
As time ran down Mourinho shuffled the pack and sent on Loic Remy and Didier Drogba hoping to nick a late winner, and the home side’s resistance became even more stretched as Morgan Schneiderlin was shown a second yellow card for a cynical foul on Fabregas to prevent a break. Despite the man advantage and some good link up play on the edge of the box, Chelsea failed to trouble Forster and both sides took a point from the encounter.
Throughout the second half Chelsea were the only team looking to try and win the match, but much credit must be given to Southampton for the way they defended their point, it’s no fluke that they sit so high up the table.
There is a real concern in certain matches this season at the inability to turn sustained pressure and neat build up play into efforts on target and more often than not it was down to Diego Costa hanging on the the ball a touch longer than needed and crosses from Filipe Luis that looked like efforts at picking out the corner flag. Oh well, it’s not like we threw away a two goal lead at home against Burnley.
Up the Chels.
Contribution from Jonny Sillitoe