Football: Slick Flo the pick of Chelsea's 11-man foreign legion

Southampton 1 Chelsea 2
Click to follow
The Independent Online
CHELSEA BROKE new ground yesterday by fielding a starting team comprised of 11 foreign nationals, the first time that has happened in English football. However, everything else about this comprehensive victory for the Londoners, which was eased by two goals from their Norwegian striker, Tore Andre Flo, was routine.

Chelsea have suffered a slump over the last three months, with five points from eight games, followed by accusations that they have reserved their finest performances for the Champions' League. Yet this trip to the south coast saw them recapture something of the fluidity that has helped them to draws against Milan and Lazio. Measured by that yardstick, Southampton are not even close.

But Southampton started off this game as if they felt they could match Gianluca Vialli's cosmopolitan outfit, given that they were depleted by the lack of an ill Dennis Wise and Gianfranco Zola, while Marcel Desailly and Jes Hogh were both out injured. Desailly's absence meant a debut for Vialli's latest signing, Emerson Thome, the centre-back bought from Sheffield Wednesday for pounds 2.5m last week, and the Brazilian put in a sterling display.

Yet a bruising first 15 minutes could have seen the Saints take the lead. While Zola was missing, Southampton's own talisman, Matt Le Tissier, was making his first start in two months. He displayed the ideas that Southampton have lacked.

They had failed to score in four games but that bleak run nearly came to an end after 13 minutes. The Chelsea goalkeeper Ed de Goey stepped out of his area in making a clearance and from the resulting free-kick Le Tissier drilled his shot against the crossbar with De Goey a bystander.

Chelsea responded with a goal six minutes later. Gustavo Poyet fed Flo inside the area, and the Norwegian rounded his defender and put his shot inside Paul Jones' right-hand post.

After a slow start, Chelsea were in full flow and scored a deserved second just before the break. A well-judged pass by Didier Deschamps beat the offside trap and Flo completed formalities by chipping over the advancing Jones. The visitors continued to dominate, and Flo went within inches of his hat-trick after 69 minutes but his right-footed shot hit the post.

Inspired by Le Tissier, Southampton pulled one back through Kevin Davies with 10 minutes left, as he poked the ball past De Goey from close range, but their desperate last raids were insufficient to beat the Dutchman a second time.

Vialli defended his decision to field the first completely foreign starting line-up, saying: "I never thought about it. I've got a squad of 22 players and the more I've got available then the better it is. Sometimes a team picks itself because of injuries and suspensions. It makes no difference as long as we talk the same language on the pitch. We had a few players out - and unfortunately a few of them were English - but nationality is not important."

Goals: Flo 18 (0-1); Flo 43 (0-2); Davies 80 (1-2).

Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Richards, Lundekvam, Dodd, Benali; Le Tissier, Soltvedt, Oakley (Tessem, 73), Kachloul (Boa Morte, 53); Pahars, Beattie (Davies, 53). Substitutes not used: Hughes, Moss (gk).

Chelsea (4-5-1): De Goey; Thome, Leboeuf, Ferrer, Babayaro; Deschamps, Poyet, Di Matteo, Petrescu (Morris, 87), Ambrosetti (Harley, 73); Flo. Substitutes not used: Nicholls, Cudicini (gk), Terry.

Referee: P Alcock (Halstead, Kent).

Bookings: Southampton: Oakley, Le Tissier. Chelsea: Leboeuf, Ferrer, Deschamps, Babayaro.

Man of the match: Flo.

Attendance: 15,232.