Chelsea have to settle for a point against Southampton
Leaders come from behind at St Mary’s but fail to convert second-half dominance
Sadio Mane of Southampton scores the opening goal during the Premier League match against Chelsea at St Mary’s Stadium. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
When the full story of the 2014-15 Premier League title comes to be told, this may be one of the occasions Chelsea look back upon with a measure of satisfaction given they were facing a team in fourth position who had not dropped a point on every other occasion this season when they have taken the lead.
Conversely, José Mourinho and his players will know it could have been considerably better given those long spells in the second half when they went looking for the winner only to come up short in attack.
Cesc Fàbregas and Eden Hazard played virtually every pass in that 45 minutes apart from the killer one and their frustrations did not stop there on a day when two bookable offences for Morgan Schneiderlin meant Southampton had to get through the last couple of minutes of normal time, plus another four of stoppages, with only 10 men.
For starters, there was another diving controversy involving a Chelsea player even if this time the video evidence suggested an injustice. Fàbregas was certainly disgusted with the yellow card that the referee, Anthony Taylor, showed him early in the second half and the replays supported his case. Yet Chelsea, despite rightful grievances, have undoubtedly not helped themselves at times if they are now suffering from a reputation for these moments.
On a more positive note, their response to Sadio Mané’s 17th-minute goal and a rare positional lapse from John Terry showed all their qualities of resilience and togetherness. Terry’s expertise has been a considerable factor in this being the first goal Chelsea had conceded in four league matches. On this occasion, however, he caught between going for the ball and trying to maintain a defensive line and managed to do neither. Terry’s legs, at 34, were not going to spare him and Mané ran on to Dusan Tadic’s pass, played onside, before having the composure and presence of mind to lift a bouncing ball over the oncoming Thibaut Courtois.
At that stage Southampton looked full of energy and the ironic chants of “the Saints are staying up” were noisily reminding everyone about the frequency with which they were described as relegation possibilities, rather than Champions League hopefuls, at the start of the season.
Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama were preventing Fàbregas and Nemanja Matic from dominating the midfield in the way that happened after the interval. Hazard, such a menace throughout the second half, was strangely subdued in the opening half an hour and Matt Targett, one of the teenagers from Southampton’s seemingly endless conveyor belt of young talent, had slotted in so seamlessly that his direct opponent, André Schürrle, was substituted at half-time. Targett is a 19-year-old left back of rich promise judging by this evidence, even if he was grateful to be given the benefit of the doubt in the incident that led to Fàbregas’s booking.
The pattern of the game had changed in first-half stoppage-time when Fàbregas lifted the ball into Hazard’s path, running through the inside-left channel. Hazard wanted the ball on his right foot and had to cut inside the full back, Maya Yoshida, as well as the nearest centre half, Toby Alderweireld. He did so brilliantly, found the space to take aim and fired his shot into the far corner with equal amounts of power and precision.
Chelsea had so much of the ball after that goal they will be exasperated by their inability to create more chances. Diego Costa had one of his least productive games and, for all the menace of Hazard and Fàbregas, Fraser Forster in the Southampton goal was surprisingly under-worked given how much time the ball spent in and around his penalty area.
Costa slipped when a poor back-pass from the substitute James Ward-Prowse threatened to undo all of Southampton’s fine defensive work and the home side held on after Schneiderlin’s foul on Fàbregas, following an earlier booking for one on Hazard, left them a man down.