Chelsea overcame an extremely well organised Southampton side at Stamford Bridge on Saturday with a solid and patient display. The nature of the match at times required continued persistence to break down the Southampton defence. The visitors used a 3-5-2 formation when in possession, but out of it they switched to a 5-4-1, with forward Nathan Redmond dropping wide to counteract the ability of Azpilicueta to advance forward. This was a tactic that few teams have employed against us this season, and for the most part it worked, and they were very hard to break down. At times it resembled the West Ham away match, with the Southampton midfield four playing close to their back five, and Chelsea perhaps not making use of the width enough. Having said that, we were having more success at creating chances in general, and particularly playing through the middle, than we did in east London the previous weekend.
Chelsea lined up with a 3-4-3 formation this time out, Morata on the bench, as the same front three that proved successful against Huddersfield in midweek was used from the start again. Despite Southampton often defending deep, our best source of creating chances, that is finding the likes of Hazard, Willian or Pedro between the lines of the opposition defence and midfield, was proving fruitful here. This often came about when balls from deeper were played into them. This was the case for an early chance as Hazard dropped deep to flick the ball to Willian, before the Brazilian exchanged passes with the Belgian again, before firing wide. The speed of ball movement, and indeed of the ball movement is so hard to defend against when they are able to do this. When we had sustained possession in the opposition half, we were finding it harder to create, as Southampton were quick to take up position, and there well drilled defensive plan did restrict us in certain areas. As mentioned earlier, the first team to neutralise the threat of Azpilicueta coming forward, often so hard to pick up for opposition teams. Ahead of Cesar, Moses started in the right wing back position and was very well marshalled by Ryan Bertrand, who had a great match against his former club. Inside of him, Hoedt attempted to mark Willian, while on the other side, Stephens, playing right centre back, did likewise on Pedro. In the centre, Bakayoko and Kante sat fairly deep when we had possession. This was mainly a by product of our defensive setup, as against three central midfielders, they had to ensure they weren’t pulled out of shape. This then translated to our attack, as they tried to feed balls into Willian and Pedro dropping off. Christensen behind, flanked by Cahill and Azpilicueta, attempted to play into these two, or wide to Alonso or Moses in the wing back positions. When we managed sustained possession, Bakayoko could push further up, and in a good display from him both defensively and in attack, he fashioned a couple of chances for himself by arriving late to the edge of the area in true Lampard style. The first came as Willian had again picked up the ball deep, and was able to find Hazard, who touched back to the advancing Bakayoko, whose shot deflected wide for a corner. An identical chance, except with Willian and Hazard swapping roles, saw Bakayoko’s effort force Forster into the first a few good saves he would make. Pedro was proving to be a threat as well, and somehow fashioned a shot against the near post after running across the area from the left, amongst the massed Southampton defence. Bakayoko had another chance as Willian cut along the goal line, and found him in the box, but his first-time effort flew wide at the near post.
Chelsea often sat off the saints in midfield when the opposition mustered attacks, ensuring we weren’t moved out of shape. This allowed their midfield to pick out passes, but their wingers and forwards were always sufficiently marked to prevent them causing us a threat. Southampton spread their midfield three wide when on the ball, which made them harder to pick up, especially as we were a man light in there, but Pedro and Willian often dropped in to help.
Before the break, the decisive moment arrived. As a free-kick was won on the left-hand side of the area. Forster set up expecting the right footed Willian to take the kick, but Alonso’s left footed curler around the wall court him unawares, and scrambling across to his near post, he couldn’t prevent it bouncing in. 1-0 at the break.
Chelsea continued to play out wide, or directly into one of the front three dropping off throughout the second period, as we had done in the first. We also continued to create the only chances of note. Alonso nearly doubled his goal tally, as his effort from the edge of the area was well saved by Forster. Fabregas entered proceedings later in the half. This was coupled with a change of shape to 3-5-2. It was the kind of match that he thrives in, the sort of player who can pick apart a tight defence with an incisive through ball. His quick thinking from a quickly taken free-kick put him in along the goal line in front of the Matthew Harding stand, and his ball in rolled agonisingly across the front of goal with no touch forthcoming. He was also at the heart of a great one-touch move between himself, Pedro and Hazard, leading to the latter bending into the bottom corner, but the goal was ruled out for offside. Morata came on with twenty minutes to play. He looked sharp and had a shot well saved at the near post by Forster.
Southampton had two chances to nick a point, both coming after Charlie Austin replaced Gabbiadini up front. The former QPR forward was put clear in a rare moment of disorganisation in the Chelsea back line, but Courtois stood up well to deflect the shot off his shoulder. Austin also had one other chance from a ball in from the right wing, but the angle was tight for him as he diverted wide at the near post. That was to be the visitors last chance, and Chelsea held on for a deserved three points.
Chelsea (3-4-3) 1 (Alonso 45+3)
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill (c); Moses (Zappacosta 82), Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso; Willian, Hazard (Morata 73), Pedro ( Fabregas 68).
Forster; Stephens, Yoshida (c), Hoedt; Soares (Lemina 17), Romeu, Hojberg (Boufal 72), Bertrand; Ward-Prowse, Redmond; Gabbiadini (Austin 61).