Football: Chelsea have much to learn

Chelsea 4 Southampton 2
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The Independent Online
No matter how much football coaches serve up in matters of strategy and tactics, they can always be heard stressing the importance of concentration. Especially for defenders, it is the main message.

It is why Ruud Gullit felt that Chelsea gained more from Saturday's match after they crossed over with a 4-1 lead against Southampton. Gullit's complaint was that his players then stopped thinking. "We got sloppy," he said.

With so many talented players available, Gullit has a big advantage in rotation but still finds himself addressing fundamental issues. One he shares with many managers in the Premiership is defensive improvement. With so many talented attackers to call on Chelsea have no trouble scoring goals, but even basic retaliatory thrusts make them nervous.

Chelsea's fluid system of play means that their defenders are often gambling on pace and athletic ability to get them out of trouble. Late interceptions may fit the air of excitement evident at Stamford Bridge, but they encourage even teams of Southampton's limited resources to believe that there might be something in the game for them.

It is hardly what Southampton could have imagined in their dressing room at half-time. However, their manager, Dave Jones, was not entirely discouraged by the scoreline. He felt that an early goal might cause Chelsea palpitations. "We started off quite well but then we made things easy for them." Like Chelsea would become, his team had not been fully focused. Players were getting back behind the ball but allowing Chelsea to run at them.

Nobody enjoyed the space Southampton conceded more than Dan Petrescu. Operating from the right side of midfield, the Romanian might easily have scored three goals before Jones was able to put an alternative approach into operation.

Petrescu's goal in the seventh minute was exquisite. Stealing in from the flank he advanced into a gap and chipped a shot in off the inside of the far post.

It soon began to look as though Chelsea's intelligent running would enable them to score at will, despite the interruption of a goal that will doubtless figure in some television anthology of goalkeeping errors. There was nothing to concern Chelsea's supporters when Ed De Goey took a back pass, but when one nudge followed another Kevin Davies was suddenly in front of him to force an equaliser.

Actually, it was no more than Southampton deserved at the time but they were soon chasing a lost cause. Franck Leboeuf got his head to an inswinging Zola corner and followed up to head Chelsea's second, when the ball reached him from Lee Todd's chest. A taller man than Todd would have been able to head clear but that's football.

With Dennis Wise taking full advantage of the room he was afforded in midfield, making Gullit wonder what his captain must do to influence the England manager, Glenn Hoddle, more goals were bound to come, the next from Mark Hughes. Left unmarked after pulling wide of the far post, Hughes sent in an unstoppable header.

Wise himself got the fourth - "typical of our defending, we passed the ball to him," Jones said - and Chelsea were looking as though they would repeat last week's rout of Barnsley.

Heady times maybe, but it seems that Chelsea cannot rid themselves completely of the old music hall tradition. Geed up by Jones's sermon, Southampton came out fighting to cut Chelsea's lead when Ken Monkou scored against his old club in the 59th minute.

By then, Gullit was prominent on the touchline, sending out urgent messages of instruction. Coaches are now allowed this licence, but there is nothing to say that players can verbally abuse opponents and backchat referees. To my mind there is all too much of it.

In any case things turned nasty. It was not entirely clear whether Frank Sinclair actually caught Andy Williams in the face, but in flinging out an arm he got himself dismissed. Wise's unnecessary intervention probably saved Francis Benali from similar punishment when he pushed the Chelsea man, who was about to booked for a foul on Benali.

Gullit was all smiles afterwards. "Yes, a good lesson," he said. "Play with your heads, not just with your hearts." There was not a word about Chelsea's defending, but we can be sure that it will figure on this week's agenda.

Goals: Petrescu (7) 1-0; Davies (25) 1-1; Leboeuf (28) 2-1; Hughes (31) 3-1; Wise (34) 4-1; Monkou (59) 4-2.

Chelsea (4-4-2); De Goey; Sinclair, Duberry, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Petrescu (Clarke, 78), Wise, Poyet, Di Matteo (Nicholls, 71); Hughes, Zola (Vialli, 71). Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Flo.

Southampton (4-4-2); Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Benali, Todd; Hughes, Magilton, Maddison (Neilson, 50), Spedding (Williams, 71); Davies (Evans, 50), Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Johansen.

Referee: A Wilkie (Ouston, Co Durham).

Bookings: Chelsea: Nicholls. Southampton: Todd, Monkou, Hughes, Williams. Sending off: Chelsea: Sinclair.

Man of the match: Wise.

Attendance: 30,008.