13 seconds in. 0-1 to Chelsea. The last time I saw such an early goal, the team that conceded that early was thrashed by half a dozen goals. But Southampton are no Man City. And most importantly, Chelsea are not Spurs. Sometimes I feel that it’s better to concede early in the game. That way your alertness and urgency levels are high and have a lot of time to react and respond. You get to be so switched on all game. If you concede within the first 20 seconds and don’t get to equalise until half time, things start getting a bit worrying. You know the opponents have settled in and are ready to deal with whatever you dish out and sneak in with another blow where possible.
The second half needed to be very different for Chelsea. We needed extreme urgency levels, die-hard attitude and a bit of ruthlessness. Chelsea did turn up the gear. When Chelsea started the second half, we had two substitutes on the pitch already and that also contributed to a different mental and technical dynamic. Boy, what a performance it turned out to be in half two. This wasn’t a case of Chelsea dismantling Southampton with mesmerising attacking football. This should get filed under ‘grit, determination and attitude’ – the biggest cabinet in Jose Mourinho’s office room.
Earlier, when the starting eleven was announced, there were a couple of surprises – Mata and Essien starting. Mata’s start unfortunately has become a surprise of sorts. We have discussed and debated enough about Mata. So I’ll leave it there. On Essien, there were mixed feelings. I thought Ramires and Essien as defensive midfielders (with more situational freedom for Ramires) would work quite well over any pivot combination with Lampard in it. We all knew Essien hasn’t had enough match practice but still I expected him to do well. After all, if he wasn’t training hard and if he wasn’t sharp in the sessions before, Jose wouldn’t be picking him to start a premier league game. Paulo Ferreira got called to play in the most unexpected circumstances but still always came and did a blunder-free job for us. That’s why they are professionals and that’s why they keep themselves fit and sharp irrespective of whether they play or not.
Essien disappointed me. Not just because of the goal he gifted to Southampton. He was poor overall. He touch was heavy. He kept on overestimating his ability to keep the ball. He was unfortunately a liability. The back pass for the goal was unbelievably poor. But I have a soft corner for Essien. Wanted him to do well. As it is, he’s going to find premier league starts hard to come by because of our squad depth. With January window also approaching, Essien’s time might well be over.
I don’t think anyone expected an easy game against Southampton. They were a top four team after 12 games and that should say something. If not for the early goal, we could have had a better first half but we may not have had the second half that we did. The first half was a bit eventless with very few chances created across the pitch. Oscar having to leave was a sad moment. Really hoping he should be fine and back in the starting line up in the mid week against Sunderland. With Ba and Lampard coming on for Oscar and Essien, Chelsea did seem to start the second half with bit more purpose and determination.
I really don’t know what Jose actually does in the half time. He does seem to have this incredible influence on his players and is able to take advantage of it by conveying what he wants and how he wants it. We started putting pressure on Southampton. Interestingly, Chelsea suddenly started to play with more confidence too – on or off the ball. Interestingly, with two strikers upfront Chelsea were creating more problems for Southampton – despite that being a not-so-often used tactic by Jose.
The commentators kept on repeating the statistic that more than 80% of our goals in recent times were scored by players that are not strikers. We further boosted that number with goals from Cahill and Terry. That Cahill goal was a usual goal mouth scramble but Cahill took that goal very well. He still had to do so much to get the ball across the line. With that goal, Chelsea’s tail was up. The second goal was coming. And it came from the man who made his 400th premier league start today. John Terry rising above all and thundering a header to the far corner of the post is such a familiar sight for Chelsea fans. For me, those goals are as beautiful to watch as the goals from criss-crossing interplay among Oscar, Mata and Hazard.
After the lead, the momentum was totally on Chelsea’s side. The crowd was buzzing, the players were responding and Chelsea looked keen to add a third. By the run of play, we should have had our third goal by the 80th minute. Nevertheless, it took a smart poacher’s finish in the 90th minutes from Ba to settle the nerves and call it game over.
Worth observing was Mata’s role and contribution in the second half. Mata led the Chelsea attacks and sometimes was pulling the strings from distance. As Jose said he played like a ‘fake winger’ who is a combo of an wide attacking midfielder and a winger. Surely Southampton couldn’t quite understand Mata’s intentions and movements. He was very busy and fluid. While he was helping his team when they didn’t have the ball, it was quite clear that his mind was always on occupying the attacking positions on the pitch and play in a such zones that helps him being a constant goal threat. That’s a bit different from how Oscar plays. When the we don’t have the ball, Oscar just doesn’t help the team, he gets himself into defensive positions and spaces and plays like a proper midfielder at times. We don’t find Mata doing that. So Oscar and Mata offer different things. It all depends on what you want from a match or from a situation.
Nevertheless, Mata should start the next game. Oscar, if he’s fit, he should also start. Hazard can be rested. While Hazard always gives his fullest, I have to say that the quality of his final product should be of better quality. It almost feels like he runs all the laps with a comfortable lead and loses focus in the final lap. Willian and Schurrle are very capable and established and they are waiting for their chances. Ramires was brilliant all through the game. Azpilicueta, at this rate, will soon be called the ‘best left back in the premier league’ now. John Terry was solid as always. Torres worked hard and did have his moments but this wasn’t his day. Lampard was a bit subdued but probably was playing a certain role cut out for this situation.
Chelsea were better than Southampton physically, mentally and technically. As long as Chelsea give their heart, they were going to come out on top sooner or later. Southampton could never test Cech after that super-early goal. They could not match Chelsea’s effort and stamina. They certainly could not deal with Chelsea’s quality. For all their impressive form, they know that they are not at the level of the top six teams in the premier league. Southampton have had a great season and they should continue to. This defeat should not make them drop their shoulders. When Chelsea plays on top gear in a second half at Stamford Bridge, no team can deal with the assault and the onslaught.
Chelsea are second in the league now. Only four points behind Arsenal. Chelsea have Sunderland (away), Stoke (away) and Crystal Palace (home) before we meet Arsenal at the Emirates. Meanwhil Arsenal have Hull City (home), Everton (home) and Man City (away). Quite clearly they have tougher fixtures and they could arrive at our game with more dropped points and even with a situation that the winner at Emirates could stay/go top of the table.
Jose Mourinho is in the house. This is the Chelsea we know. We are second in the table. We have progressed to the champions league knock out rounds. The bad November is behind us. December has started well. The team has not peaked yet. We are playing no way near our potential. So, keep the faith. Enjoy the ride. Cheers!