Chelsea 0 Southampton 0
Maurizio Sarri said last Friday that he would not enter the January market for a new striker but on the day Chelsea announced the capture of attacking midfielder Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund, it was the team's shortcomings at the sharp end of the formation that were placed under a harsh spotlight.
Alvaro Morata was back in the Premier League starting XI for the first time since the defeat at Wolves on December 5th but he fluffed two good chances while Eden Hazard was twice denied by Southampton's 22-year-old goalkeeper, Angus Gunn, who had a top-flight debut to remember.
But Chelsea did not do enough as a team in a strangely clunky performance and their desperation was summed up in stoppage-time when Marcos Alonso went down softly under a challenge from the substitute, Shane Long, in a vain attempt to win a penalty. He would have been better advised trying to shoot.
It was a bonus point for Southampton and their new manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl, who had admitted he had one eye on this game with his selection for Sunday’s home loss to Manchester City. For him, there was delight at a point in the battle for survival. For Chelsea, there were boos upon the full-time whistle.
The day had been a whirr of transfer activity at Chelsea, almost to the point where the game was slightly obscured. The headline item was the purchase of Pulisic, with the loan-back to Borussia Dortmund for the rest of the season, but there was also a move from Monaco for Cesc Fàbregas and one from Wolves for Tammy Abraham, the striker who is currently on loan at Aston Villa.
Sarri started Fàbregas among the substitutes and it would be a surprise if the midfielder was still at the club next month. He wants to leave now. The sticking point could be Chelsea’s inability to sign a replacement. Sarri said last Friday it would be difficult.
Southampton have deadwood in their squad that they would like to shift this month – including Fraser Forster, Steven Davis and Manolo Gabbiadini – but, like Chelsea, they had to blot out the January noise.
Hasenhüttl started with three central defenders and there was a recall for Cédric Soares out of position at left wing-back. There was also a Premier League debut in goal for Angus Gunn, so of former Norwich and Scotland stopper Bryan. Hasenhüttl wanted his attackers and midfielders to press but the priority was stability and discipline. Southampton were compact, crowding the ball and they asked Chelsea one simple question – did they have the guile to break them down?
Sarri does not really do rotation. Morata for the injured Olivier Giroud was his only alteration from Sunday's win at Crystal Palace. He had four defenders on the bench and his starting XI laboured to make attacking inroads. There was audible frustration within the home support from around the midway point of the first half.
Yet Chelsea could reflect on having created three decent first-half chances with the big one coming on 34 minutes. Hazard took down a high ball over the top from Antonio Rüdiger and struck for goal only for it to smack into Gunn’s face and cannon away. The young goalkeeper deserved credit for standing tall and being brave.
Morata had blown a headed opportunity in the 12th minute following a high ball over the top from Cesar Azpilicueta while the striker saw another effort deflected wide by Yan Valery, the 19-year-old who impressed at right wing back. Sarri was without the injured Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi and he lost another winger, Willian, following a bang from Maya Yoshida in the 37th minute.
Sarri sent his Chelsea players out early for the second-half – it was easy to imagine his team-talk being brutally succinct – but prising Southampton apart was far from straightforward.
Showing eight changes from Sunday’s game against City, the visitors offered nothing as an attacking force in the first half and although they came to threaten a little more after the interval, the order of the evening for them remained defensive tightness; keeping Chelsea at arm’s length. As the minutes ticked down, they came to sense reward.
Hazard cut inside to work Gunn on 58 minutes but the pickings were slim for Chelsea. Sarri introduced Fabregas for what was the midfielder’s 500th club appearance in England – not the biggest landmark, perhaps, but one that he wanted to reach before he departs – and he almost laid on the breakthrough goal.
Accepting the ball from Hazard, his pass for Morata was made to measure and, this time, the striker finished into the far corner only for an offside flag to deny him. It was awfully tight. There was still time for the substitute, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, to usher in Morata on the break but his finish was straight at Gunn, betraying his lack of confidence. – Guardian