Chelsea inch closer and closer to the Premier League title after a 1-1 draw against a well-organised Southampton side.
The Blues, who had the opportunity to go eight points clear due to Manchester City slipping up yesterday, could only manage a break Southampton’s resolve once — with a Costa header — meaning the spoils are shared.
And after much criticism of Chelsea’s negative style of play against Paris Saint-Germain mid-week, this was a much better advert for Chelsea, who battled and battled but just could not break down Southampton.
It means the Blues, with a +6 points difference and +4 goal difference over Manchester City, are still in commanding position, particularly with a game still in hand.
It was very much a game of two halves: Southampton bossing most of the first, and Chelsea bossing most of the second.
The Saints started the play in typically pacy fashion, and it set a marker for what was in store for Chelsea’s defensive pairing of Cahill and Terry.
Even so, it was the hosts who went ahead. A quick bit of play out to Ivanovic from Hazard and the Serbian’s first-time cross was headed home by an unmarked Costa. It was a goal of great creation and made to look very easy in the end. Ivanovic must get credit for sending in a delicious cross, something he is know exactly known for.
But then Southampton hit back. Matic got his foot to the ball but lunged too recklessly and, crucially, lunged on the blind side of Mike Dean, who pointed to the spot instantly. Tadic stroked the ball down the middle of the goal.
That quick equaliser unsettled Chelsea, who just could not deal with Southampton for the rest of the half. Matic was drawn out of place and any ball lofted over the top for Shane Long left Cahill back-pedalling. The defensive duo were pulled all over the place and held no line, but thankfully it was only at the cost of embarrassment, and no further goal conceded.
After the whistle blew, then out came a different Chelsea, who were much more measured to deal with Southampton pace. Ivanovic should have had a penalty for being clipped on the heel but fell too theatrically for his own good.
Long ball after long ball was bombarded into the Southampton goal, with Hazard and the anonymous Oscar both going close. Ramires came on for Matic, who Mike Dean ought to have sent off for a second bookable offence, and Chelsea kept knocking on Southampton’s door.
Terry had two late chances with his left foot to seal it but the look of self-digust from the captain when he missed them told you everything. Southampton were just not caving in.
Man of the Match
EDEN HAZARD: Rarely should a player ever get such a high scoring when he didn’t even help his side to win, but Eden Hazard embodied exactly the reaction Mourinho wanted after the mid-week disaster. Hazard battled and battled, and seemed to be the only one who wanted to be direct and drive forwards. Refreshing to see someone take on players and not just want to pass sideways. He is in his own class. 9/10
Mourinho could draw positives from extending the lead at the top: “Yesterday we had five points more than second, now we have six points more and one fewer match to play. It makes our situation better than before the game. It’s positive rather than negative. In the second half the players had the desire, the mentality and stability – we created more stability than we had in the last matches.”
Koeman was reflective but pleased: “The first 45 minutes we had the best chances to score. In the second half, we had more difficulties to keep the ball. To get a good result against Chelsea you need luck. We needed a great goalkeeper and we had that today.”