The first double since 1988 for Southampton over Chelsea will have to wait another year. Fraser Forster will also have to restart his tally of minutes without a goal, allowing his first in 705 minutes not long after breaking the club record. Not the most desirable of results for Saints as Guus Hiddink continues his two-tenure record with Chelsea containing only one loss.
For a variety of reasons, Southampton were left wanting after late goals crumbled the Saints’ early lead at St. Mary’s. The first goal of the fixture was the perfect example of the misfortune Chelsea have experienced throughout the 2015/16 season. A poor decision from Baba Rahman played right into the hands…err, feet of Shane Long, who was looking to pounce on mistakes at the back during the match. Snatching his chance, Long finished cooly over Courtois with a low chip across the face of goal.
That wasn’t the beginning of Chelsea’s early-game woes, however. After no more than three minutes, Pedro began calling for a substitution. Whether due to fatigue or ineffective warm-up routines, the Spaniard ended up going down shortly after he felt the niggle in his left hamstring. Clutching at the pain until he left the pitch on six minutes, the 28-year-old wide-man was replaced early on by Oscar.
Beyond the goal and injury, the first half lacked much to talk about. Southampton maintained defensive stability, Forster was hardly tested as the clock ticked past his club record-breaking goalkeeping, and Chelsea passed and passed and passed around the low block Ronald Koeman employed.
Jordy Clasie and Steven Davis ran the midfield, transitioning well from tackle to “find the forward.” Eden Hazard continued his streak of providing little to the Chelsea attack while Willian ran back and forth between the wings trying to find some space.
It was almost as expected for Chelsea, which still seems strange when taken into the context of the last 18 months. Though Hiddink has turned the Blues’ fortune around since taking over for Jose Mourinho, the match seemed as if it would end as it stood after 45 minutes of play.
The Tale of…An Hour and a Half an Hour?
Chelsea showed more enthusiasm at the beginning of the second-half, but the same defensive problems plagued them. Baba Rahman was replaced by the young Brazilian Kenedy at half-time, presumably a move made to shore up the left side of the back line. Though fewer mistakes were made without Rahman, Kenedy played more on the front foot, leaving space in behind to be exploited by Long and Charlie Austin.
But a tactical substitution made by Koeman, surely thinking about closing out the match, changed everything. Long, who began to lose pace after the hour mark, was replaced by Graziano Pelle. The large Italian target man could provide a focal point in the attack, allowing the rest of the midfield to drop deeper and defend.
A standard tactic, but one that gave Chelsea the chance to send more players forward and probe the Southampton defense. That proved painful for the Saints.
Another writer might insert a paragraph or two about Diego Costa’s antics right about now, as well as one of two statements: “the league needs his passion” or “GET THAT *&%#(* OUT OF HERE!” But that seems pointless at this stage.
Costa swept the feet from under Virgil van Dijk and received a yellow, as expected from the Span-Braz-iard. Ryan Bertrand clattered Costa from behind and received a yellow. Willian falls when Clasie gets within his “personal space,” causing Martin Atkinson to give the Dutch midfielder a yellow in an attempt to calm the play back down.
But back to the actual game, when a short time after Forster took his no-goal record past the 700 minutes mark, Fabregas played in a low cross toward Costa. Though the pass missed its mark, the curl caught Forster off-guard and wandered into goal. Fabregas celebrated with an expression of surprise on his face as Chelsea pulled level.
Southampton lost all footing after that, unable to hold possession and unable to counterattack. The attacking tandem of Pelle and, later a substitution for Charlie Austin, Sadio Mane remained impotent as both notched another game played without a goal.
Finally, as if written, Ivanovic pounced on a well-placed corner kick and blasted the winning goal past Forster in the dying moments of the match. Southampton couldn’t penetrate for what little time was left, and the match ended with the proverbial pendulum swung the opposite direction.
Any Need to Tinker?
If there’s anything to take from the midday fixture, it’s that there’s clearly quality in this Chelsea side. Many have come up in arms and declared the careers for all the Blues over, but that just simply isn’t the case. Admittedly, there is a way to beat Chelsea back while they’re in this precarious state. Teams as varied as Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City and West Ham have shown this since the beginning of the season.
Southampton, much like they did back in October, controlled the game in the first half by pressuring the Chelsea back line, forcing mistakes, and not allowing their finishers through on goal. Hazard and Willian were unable to find room to create and, while Chelsea dominated the entire match with passes and possession, the Saints’ midfield pressured them with enthusiasm.
Koeman surely saw this and, in atypical fashion, decided to change a successful system with his substitutions. Taking away that pressure with the Pelle change and sitting deeper on their haunches allowed Azpilicueta and Kenedy to range forward, stretching the play and creating space for Costa & Crew to create intricate little through balls around the box. Quite literally, the entire Saints game plan went out the window.
And they were punished for it. Have Chelsea fans started #HiddinkForPresident yet?