The Blues returned to the summit of the Premier League after a hard fought 3-1 win over Southampton
Chelsea ran out 3-1 winners over Southampton on a thoroughly sodden Saturday afternoon at Stamford Bridge.
Thomas Tuchel opted to rotate his side after the midweek exertions of the Champions League, where a tired-looking XI fell to a 1-0 defeat against Juventus. With the likes of Jorginho rested, up stepped academy graduates Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson Odoi and Trevor Chalaobah against the Saints. And step up is exactly what Chalobah did, with the 22-year-old handing the Blues an early lead from a well-worked corner kick.
The remainder of the first half would be fairly frustrating for Chelsea, who saw goals from Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner ruled out for offside and foul infringements. Predictably, Chelsea would be made to pay for their missed opportunities. On the hour mark, former blue Tino Livramento barrelled down the right-hand channel, only to be brought down by Ben Chilwell inside the penalty area. Without hesitation, Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot – handing Southampton a lifeline in the match.
James Ward Prowse slotted his spot kick home to level the score at 1-1 – though that wasn’t his last significant action of the match. The England international was dismissed late on for a dangerous tackle on Jorginho, giving his side an even bigger task to try and close the game out.
Eventually, the pressure told, as Timo Werner slid home in the 84th minute to give Chelsea a 2-1 lead, moments before Ben Chilwell’s half volley wrapped up all three points. It was a vital win for the European champions, one that takes them top of the Premier League table. Here are five things we learned from today’s game.
Mount has been badly missed
This afternoon’s game marked the return of the midfielder, who made an instant impact as a second-half sub. It doesn’t feel entirely coincidental that Chelsea lost the two games that he happened to miss, as in so many ways, he is the glue that binds Tuchel’s side together.
Seconds after coming on, the 22-year-old drifted right, whipping in a teasing cross that very nearly led to a second Chelsea goal. After all of the tired talk surrounding his worth to his club and country just a few months ago, there aren’t too many dissenting voices now.
Squad players will define Chelsea’s season
We all know the quality of Chelsea’s strongest XI, but in a campaign where the club will attempt to fight on every front, the importance of the squad cannot be overlooked. Thankfully for Thomas Tuchel, he has a number of former ‘fringe’ players who are now making sizable contributions this season.
Against Southampton, we saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek help set up Trevor Chalobah’s opener, and Ross Barkley come off the bench to play a defining role in Chelsea’s second goal of the game. The club are expected to do all they can to defend their Champions League trophy, so this certainly won’t be the last time we see the full squad utilised in such a way.
Livramento is a star in the making
It was a disappointing end to the game for Southampton, who were right in the tie until Ward-Prowse’s red card. However, the away side can take some comfort in the knowledge that they have a possible star in the making in the form of Right-back Tino Livramento.
The 18-year-old came through the Chelsea academy, and despite this afternoon’s match being just his seventh Premier League appearance, he didn’t look at all out of place. As well as some fine defensive moments, the England U21 international also won Southampton’s second-half penalty after cleverly drawing a foul from Chilwell.
Werner’s pace and direct running offers Chelsea a plan B
At times, it threatened to be another frustrating afternoon for the home side – and indeed for Werner. The German saw his first-half goal chalked off for a soft foul in the build-up, but much to his credit, the forward refused to be denied.
Werner kept his composure to prod home Cesar Azpillicueta’s cross in the 84th minute to seal all three points for his side, with the cathartic celebrations that followed speaking to the player’s sheer relief. His raw pace and movement give Tuchel an alternative in games where the attack is stymied, as when deployed on the wing, the burden of scoring goals is slightly lifted.
Saints still lack a cutting edge up top
Hasenhuttl’s side had some good moments despite being huge underdogs this afternoon. And yet, it quickly became apparent that his side often lacked the incision in the final third to really make their spells of possession count.
Southampton were largely reduced to long-range efforts in the first half, with their best openings – including the penalty kick – coming from directly from Chelsea errors.
They have played pretty well at both Stamford Bridge and the Etihad in recent weeks, but one can’t help wondering what would have been possible in both instances if Danny Ings still played for the club.