Olivier Giroud's double inspires quick-fire Chelsea comeback at Southampton
When Jan Bednarek doubled Southampton’s lead midway through the second half, all seemed lost for Chelsea and Antonio Conte. A labouring Alvaro Morata was replaced with Olivier Giroud and the Frenchman inspired a 10-minute Chelsea comeback that took most people by surprise. Giroud’s double, his first Premier League goals for the Blues, and a strike from Eden Hazard were enough for all three points as the Saints’ relegation fears were only enhanced.
We saw two different Chelsea sides during this game. The team in the first half looked devoid of confidence and belief, without an obvious focal point and incredibly shaky at the back. A front three of Morata, Hazard and Willian were not gelling and it seemed like they were trying to walk the ball in the net. Back heels went astray and each of them lost the ball on far too many occasions as the hosts comfortably sat deep and allowed their visitors to falter. Southampton went in front midway through the first half when Ryan Bertrand burst past Cesar Azpilicueta before squaring the ball for Dusan Tadic to slot past Thibaut Courtois.
Chelsea were lucky not to be down to 10 men just before half time when Marcos Alonso sank his studs into Shane Long’s calf without attempting to play the ball. Referee Mike Dean somehow completely ignored the awful challenge while Mark Hughes was apoplectic on the touchline. The Blues couldn’t create any clear-cut chances before the break and it looked like a fourth away defeat in a row in the Premier League was on the cards. Things didn’t improve after half time either. Shane Long found himself in behind Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill and was brought down by the former but got up and carried on. The Irish striker slipped as he shot and his effort ricocheted off his other foot and looped over Courtois but the big Belgian stuck out a glove to palm the ball over the crossbar.
A second goal would all but seal a priceless victory for struggling Southampton it seemed and an unlikely name found its way onto the scoresheet when the goal did come. Jan Bednarek, making his first Premier League start for the club, got on the end of James Ward-Prowse’s free kick and tucked his shot past Courtois with composure you’d expect from a seasoned striker. That goal sparked Antonio Conte into action and the Italian introduced Giroud and Pedro to the action while switching to a back four. Now the Blues had a focal point to their attacks with the former Arsenal striker able to hold up the ball to bring others into play while also being a physical nuisance to the Southampton defenders.
Chelsea were back in the game when Giroud stooped to head in Alonso’s cross from deep to notch his first league goal since joining the club in January. Suddenly the Saints seemed nervous, almost crumbling under the pressure of a relegation battle and their resistance gave way when Willian’s low cross was controlled brilliantly by Eden Hazard before the Belgian fired past Alex McCarthy and several Southampton defenders with his left foot to draw Chelsea level. The remarkable comeback was completed just a few moments later when Alonso won a free kick on the edge of the Saints’ penalty area.
Willian opted to play it to Hazard, who was waiting on the left side of the box, before Chelsea’s talisman chipped a ball into the area like a golfer chipping out of a bunker onto the green. Christensen and then Cahill challenged in the air before the ball fell to Giroud’s feet and he swept his shot, first time, into the bottom corner and the away end at St. Mary’s went into bedlam. Victor Moses was brought on by Conte to strengthen the defence as Chelsea prepared for some rearguard action in the last 10 minutes.
The desperate Saints couldn’t find a much-needed equaliser and Chelsea’s quick-fire comeback was enough to see them get their first Premier League win for a month. That was the first time the Blues had come back from two goals down to win since Claudio Ranieri was in charge in 2002 and their first away win in the Premier League since January. Manchester City’s defeat of Spurs also put the Champions League places in sight, if only slightly, and you sense that Chelsea will need to win all of their remaining games to have any chance of catching Tottenham. This result will give the squad a huge confidence boost going into their FA Cup semi-final against the same opponents next week.