They all count. Be it a 4-0 shellacking or a nervy 1-0 win, it’s still three points on the board. Chelsea overcame their own lack of precision in front of goal and some late Saints pressure to emerge victorious, keeping Manchester City within touching distance of a very long barge-pole.
Here are the talking points from a 1-0 home win over Southampton.
#1 Reference Point Redundant
In his press conference before the game, Antonio Conte spoke about the centre forward being a reference point for the team and for opposing defenders. Playing without a recognised striker, as Chelsea did against Huddersfield and now Southampton, causes all sorts of problems for defenders, as there is no overtly visible threat to safeguard against. Although Alvaro Morata was available, he found himself watching the game in Michy-vision, alongside the Belgian benchwarmer himself. A front three of Pedro, Hazard and Willian retained their places from the Huddersfield win, while Cahill stepped into the defence in place of Antonio Rudiger. Bakayoko continued his journey to redemption, putting in a solid performance in tandem with the ever-reliable Kante. The setup proved to be too strong for the Saints to overcome, who spent the majority of the game defending against the relentless Chelsea onslaught. When the goal did arrive, it came from left-field. Literally.
#2 Alonso Golazo
Despite sustained pressure in the first half, Fraser Forster remained uncharacteristically steady in the Saints’ goal. It took until stoppage time in the first half for Chelsea to break the deadlock. As Willian and Alonso stood over the set-piece, Forster set his wall up, expecting them to do a passable impression of an obstacle, at the very least. They didn’t. Alonso’s deadball prowess is hardly a secret, and he sent his free kick around the wall with just enough spin so that it slinked into the net, beyond the reach of Forster. Like the Spaniard’s hair, it was a thing of beauty. The Saints ‘keeper got his positioning all wrong and the man at the end of the wall was more concerned about protecting himself than protecting his goal. 1-0 up, at the stroke of half-time.
#3 Fluidity and False Nine
Liverpool have been conducting the false 9 experiment for a while now, with mostly positive results. In the four games that Chelsea have played Hazard through the middle, there have been four wins and zero defeats, making it a viable option when Morata is out of commission. Against Southampton, the trio up front stretched the Saints defence this way and that, creating chances and generally making life miserable for them. The technical ability of Hazard combined with the direct running of Pedro and the unpredictability (for better or worse) of Willian, with all three swapping places at will can be a handful for any opponent, and so it proved.
#4 Easier Said Than Done
Conte bemoaned Chelsea’s missed chances after the match and he is right to be worried. This profligacy might not have affected the result against Southampton’s woeful attack, but against teams who can reach the Blues’ goal without a GPS, it might come back to haunt them. Fraser Forster in goal had a fine game, but he wasn’t really making acrobatic saves like De Gea does. Mostly, the Chelsea attack made it easy for him to save their efforts on goal. More ruthlessness is required to make those 24 attempts on goal produce more than a solitary goal via a set-piece.
#5 Looking Ahead
Marcos Alonso, on four yellow cards for the season so far, got himself booked in the dying minutes of the game. This gives him a clean slate and a rest against Bournemouth in the League Cup. Chelsea’s resident foreign relations expert, Kenedy, is likely to see some minutes in that game before heading out on loan for the remainder of the season. Likewise for Musonda, too. Ethan Ampadu might also get a run out while veteran centre-back Andreas Christensen should get a day off. Despite the usual wastefulness in front of goal, it should be a winnable fixture.
Chelsea return to Premier League action against Everton after the League Cup in midweek. A run of victories to end the year would be the perfect Christmas gift!