Chelsea will draw positives from Southampton game on weekend of gain
Ronald Koeman’s’s adventurous side take a well deserved point at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois reacts after Dusan Tadic converts from the penalty spot for Southampton in the Premier League game at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Chelsea 1 Southampton 1
This was the third time Chelsea have dropped points out of their last four home games but when the initial disappointment subsides they are probably entitled to reflect it had still been a profitable weekend. Their lead at the top of the Premier League has stretched to six points, with a game in hand, and Southampton showed again here why they have been one of the great stories of the season.
Ronald Koeman’s side excelled during the first half, facing up to the league leaders with the mix of high skill and fearlessness that has been their way all season. Chelsea had to summon all their competitive spirit before taking command in the second half and, after that, we saw the togetherness of Koeman’s side.
It was a tense, dramatic finale, featuring two chances for John Terry in quick succession that will anguish the Chelsea captain. Fraser Forster made a series of fine saves and Southampton were clinging on during five minutes of stoppages.
José Mourinho’s team had taken the lead in the 11th minute when Diego Costa headed in Branislav Ivanovic’s cross for his first goal in eight matches but Southampton were quickly level through Dusan Tadic’s penalty. Not many visiting teams will play with this enterprise at Stamford Bridge and it would have been desperately harsh on Koeman’s team if they had succumbed to that late pressure, even if there were lingering doubts about the borderline decision for their equaliser.
It was against Southampton in December that Mourinho first went into overdrive about the perceived “campaign” against his club. The penalty that Nemanja Matic conceded will almost certainly to be added to his file of grievances, not least as four minutes later the referee, Mike Dean, missed Tadic treading on the back of Ivanovic’s heel for what could conceivably have been a spot kick of their own.
Matic was booked for the challenge on Sadio Mané but he did clip the ball as he and Ivanovic tried to stop Southampton’s quick, elusive forward. Ivanovic was in close proximity and, if anything, it was probably his presence that put Mané off balance. The yellow card confirmed Dean attributed the infringement to Matic and it was tempting to think the protests would have been more vociferous had not the scrutiny been on Mourinho’s players over the previous few days.
As it was, barely anyone went within a six-feet radius of the referee. Mourinho rarely ventured from his dugout and, at times, it felt suspiciously like Chelsea were absolutely determined to be on their best behaviour.
Koeman had left out Southampton’s leading scorer, Graziano Pellè, because of the deterioration in the Italian’s performance since Christmas and Shane Long’s indefatigable running was a prominent feature during those long spells in the first half when they took the game to Chelsea in a way that was rare to see.
The team in red and white played without a flicker of apprehension, shimmering with menace and often pinning back their opponents. Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand attacked from the full back positions, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin dovetailed with great expertise in midfield and Mané was always a difficult opponent.
Costa’s goal was a throwback to those days earlier in the season when he was expected to score in almost every game. He is not, though, the marauding force we saw back in the autumn and early winter months. Cesc Fàbregas is also struggling to recapture his best form and this was an off-day for Matic. A foul on Mané, in the opening moments of the second half, could feasibly have brought him another yellow card and Mourinho removed him not long afterwards.
The first half had been a struggle for Chelsea and they would have trailed by the internal were it not for another demonstration of fine goalkeeping from Thibaut Courtois. Chelsea certainly took their time working up a head of steam. Eden Hazard, in these moments, came alive and they will also look back on that moment in the 57th minute when Willian let fly and Costa threw himself at the misdirected shot only for the ball to squirt upwards and flick off the post.
Southampton had to withstand some concerted pressure and Forster had to excel, most notably with a double to save to keep out Costa’s header and Hazard’s follow-up effort.
All the time, however, Southampton continued to look lively and dangerous on the break. Just after the hour, some lovely footwork from Tadic inside the penalty area opened up the Chelsea defence and the Southampton player should probably have gone alone rather than trying to set up Long.
Terry’s late chance came in a congested penalty area, with his first shot coming back to him off the substitute James Ward-Prowse and the second flashing wide of the post, and that was the last time Southampton’s goal was seriously endangered.