A comeback away from home is something unexpected from the Blues, given their recent form. Chelsea were eventually able to secure a win after a couple of embarrassing defeats. What’s more interesting is their comeback after a trailing 2-0 scoreline to a winning 3-2 and that too in some unexpected ways. Thanks not only to Southampton’s vulnerable defence in the box but also, and more importantly, to Chelsea’s Giroud-leading frontline.
Southampton’s direct approach
The home team played direct throughout the game while using flanks to penetrate the final third and initiate attacks. Their frontline players dropped into the relative wing to help getting the ball up along with the corresponding wing-back and the wide centre back.
Chelsea often had to drop players at wings to match the opponents number but Southampton were fast enough and were still able to exploit the open width within instants during transitions. Besides, there was poor defensive coordination at the right wing by Zappacosta and Fabregas.
Southampton’s goal in the first half was the ultimate outcome of their direct attack during transitions. They found Chelsea’s box open while the Blues were yet to organise their defence. In fact, the Saints could have doubled their lead in the first half due to Chelsea’s defensive vulnerability during the transitions. They were leading the scoreline in the first half with 1-0.
Southampton’s defence – good in the outfield, bad in the box
Southampton played with mid defence line which put pressure on Chelsea’s backline every now and then. Due to their mid defence line, they were able to adjust their defensive density during transitions. This made Chelsea struggle for a long time to create any significant attack. The home team sometimes pressed with even a high defence line following their attacking attempts into the Chelsea’s box.
Southampton’s thick defence lines due to less space between their backline and midfield also created large gap between their midfield and frontline, which in turn gave huge space to Chelsea in the midfield. Due to the same, Chelsea were able to start and restart their build-up high up the midfield.
As Chelsea were initiating attacks from the centre due to centrally concentrated position of their front players, the Saints had crowded up their defence in the central plane. Thus Chelsea had to lose possession whenever they tried penetrating from the central plane, which was almost every time. Southampton multi-pressed Morata to nullify Chelsea’s attacks. Chelsea couldn’t even convert their attacking runs during transitions because their front line players were dropping back and so couldn’t be available at the front end at the right time during transitions.
However, despite their ability to adjust their compact defensive set up in outfield, the defensive organisation of the Saints in front of the goal was not that impressive. They seem unlikely to sustain their defensive shape in pressure, such as when facing back to back attacking attempts from Chelsea or conceding set pieces. Chelsea were very likely to exploit this opportunity – which they eventually did.
Chelsea scored in unexpected ways
Chelsea scored all three goals in the second half to win the battle; two of them were following set pieces – indirect free kicks. But that’s not the catching point of this fixture. It is in fact that Chelsea were able to hit the back of the net in unexpected ways.
Chelsea, this season, have been almost unable to convert their attacking runs when they retain possession in the final third. This is due to their highly predictable moves which always allow the opponent defence to keep tracking their moves and organise accordingly. But against the Saints, Chelsea scored their second goal only due to their retention and consecutive cross passing in the attacking third. This was made possible partly because of the deadly combination of Hazard, Willian, and Giroud with Kante’s rechanneling ability from outside the box. And partly because of the tendency of Southampton defence to loosen their defensive shape in the box when facing continuous attacking pressure.
Secondly, Chelsea have been almost unable to score out of the compact defence in the box, this whole season, except from Hazard’s dribbling-cum-finishing runs. But Giroud just did this. After some Southampton’s loose clearing attempts within the box resulting from an indirect free kick awarded to Chelsea, Giroud finished in between the defenders.
Giroud is proving to be a value-added element in Chelsea’s frontline but is not utilised by Conte as smartly as he should have been.