Southampton vs Chelsea match report: Eden Hazard makes a point as Blues count blessings

Southampton 1 Chelsea 1: Belgian cancels out Sadio Mane's opener before Morgan Schneiderlin red card

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho’s mood may have marginally improved when he left his post-match press conference and learnt that Manchester City had drawn at home with Burnley.

That surprise result from the Etihad Stadium – the equaliser came just as Mourinho was discussing Chelsea’s non-penalty here – meant that the gap between City and Chelsea at the top of the Premier League stayed at three points, rather than contracting to just one, and that Chelsea’s failure to win at Southampton was less immediately costly than it might have been.

Chelsea, kicking off an hour before City, had just stumbled to a 1-1 draw with an impressively resilient Southampton side. Mourinho’s men had been poor in the first half and had gone behind, only for Eden Hazard, seemingly carrying the whole team on his shoulders, to drag them back with a brilliant equaliser just before the break.

For all of Chelsea’s attacking pressure in the second half, though, they could not find a winner. Their best opportunity came when Matt Targett tripped Cesc Fabregas in the box, only for referee Anthony Taylor to book Fabregas for simulation. This was the incident that sparked Mourinho’s post-match fury, not just with the “scandal” of the unawarded penalty, but with what he called a “campaign” against his team, denying them penalties that they had earned and ignoring the transgressions of their rivals.

Hazard.jpg
Eden Hazard celebrates the equaliser

It was quite a performance from Mourinho afterwards but understandably so. This was the type of marginal misfortune that decides tight games. And this was the type of tight game that decides tight seasons. Chelsea were away from home, against a good team, back on the pitch just 48 hours after their last match. This was a real test of their resources and the evidence on the pitch was that they did not quite have enough. Or rather, they did not have enough to render the officiating irrelevant.

Throughout the first half, Chelsea had looked slower and sloppier than their brisk, inventive hosts. Mourinho had made changes from the side who brushed West Ham United aside on Boxing Day. He brought in Jon Obi Mikel for midfield presence and André Schürrle for pace on the break.

It was a Chelsea team set up to counter-attack but Southampton’s willingness to sit deep caught Chelsea slightly unawares. With Diego Costa not looking at his very sharpest – this is his first Christmas programme – Chelsea were more reliant than ever on the incision of Hazard and Fabregas.

Southampton played the better football throughout the first half. Ronald Koeman could not field his first-choice team here, with full-backs Nathanial Clyne and Ryan Bertrand injured and ineligible respectively. But what Koeman did have was his first-choice front three, in Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mané and Dusan Tadic.

 

Their early combinations should have been warning enough to Chelsea and, 17 minutes in, they took the lead. Pelle beat Gary Cahill to a long ball from the back, knocking it back to Tadic, who cushion-volleyed the ball over the top, finding Mané’s run. Mané raced away from John Terry, who was caught out of place, and his confident finish beat Thibaut Courtois.

Chelsea had yet to start playing and it looked as if Southampton were the likelier side to score before the break. Tadic curled a free-kick over the bar, Targett had a shot blocked by Gary Cahill and Pelle stabbed a shot over from the edge of the box.

With the final attack of the first half, though, Chelsea pulled level. Fabregas clipped a perfect pass into the inside left channel and Hazard raced on to it. Facing part-time right-back Maya Yoshida, Hazard darted inside, dummied rather than shooting, came back further inside beyond Toby Alderweireld and found the far bottom corner of the net. It was a brilliant individual goal, the goal of a player determined to deliver his team the three points all by himself.

Once Mourinho put Willian on for Schürrle at half-time, Chelsea had more attacking options and they started to force Southampton back into their penalty area. Both Fonte and Alderweireld had to block shots from Willian before the tangle between Targett and Fabregas – a clear trip and a foul – that so incensed Mourinho. There were still 35 minutes left after that, though, and even with Didier Drogba and Loïc Rémy thrown on, Chelsea could not score the winner they thought they deserved.

The best chance came when James Ward-Prowse underhit a back pass straight to Costa, who lost his footing. After that, they had all the possession and territory but could not quite make a clear chance. Hazard spun and shot just wide, Drogba failed to get a shot away from a Hazard cross, and could not meet a ball which Fabregas hit across the box.

On another day Chelsea might have found a winner but they did not, and looked at the end like they missed the imagination of Oscar, who was ill. “We tried everything, we dominated and we created a lot,” Mourinho said. “We played well.”

Southampton gave everything, especially after Morgan Schneiderlin was sent off for a second yellow card, and clung on to an important point.

“One point against Chelsea is like maybe three against another team,” smiled Koeman. “I am proud of the organisation and the spirit in the team. In some moments we were a bit lucky, but if you don’t have luck against these teams, it is impossible to get a result.”

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