Marcos Alonso the difference as Chelsea brush aside Southampton to keep in pursuit of the Manchester clubs

Chelsea 1 Southampton 0: Alonso scored the only goal but Chelsea could have scored many more against a Southampton team who were set up with defence in mind

Nick Szczepanik
Stamford Bridge
Saturday 16 December 2017 18:11
Alonso celebrates breaking the deadlock for the home side
Alonso celebrates breaking the deadlock for the home side

Chelsea’s fifth successive home win and a second victory in a week kept them in pursuit of the Manchester clubs at the top of the Premier League and helped Antonio Conte’s men to bury the memories of last weekend’s tame defeat at West Ham still deeper.

Marcos Alonso scored the only goal with a free kick in first-half stoppage time but Chelsea could have scored many more against a Southampton team who were set up with defence in mind. Yet only a good save by Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois prevented substitute Charlie Austin grabbing a second-half equaliser that would scarcely have been deserved.

Southampton have only won one match in their last nine, but this was an improvement on the 4-1 home capitulation against Leicester in midweek. Mauricio Pellegrino, the Southampton manager, had said after that that he was ready to ditch players who were not fully committed to the club. So the dropping to the bench of captain Steven Davis, record signing Mario Lemina, Virgil van Dijk, Dusan Tadic, Sofiane Boufal was bound to be taken as an indication of whom he was talking about.

Conte made only one change to the team that won 3-1 away to Huddersfield, restoring Cary Cahill to the defence in place of Antonio Rudiger and persevering with Eden Hazard as a false nine.

Despite Southampton’s defensive approach, they almost opened the scoring after eight minutes. Former Chelsea Champions League winner Ryan Bertrand crossed low from the left and the ball beat Thibaut Courtois, arriving at the feet of Cahill, who almost presented it to Manolo Gabbiadini before recovering to make his clearance.

Chelsea did not show until Willian cut inside and exchanged passes with Alonso in the 14th minute, shooting just wide. Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster had little to do until the 20th minute, when he had to deal with a bouncing volley by Alonso and a long shot from Cahill that he could only parry. He did better after 24 minutes, leaping high to his right to touch away a deflected 25-yarder from N’Golo Kante.

Alonso gave his side the lead

Chelsea were in charge now, and Wesley Hoedt’s last-ditch intervention prevented Willian from pouncing on Pedro’s low cross. And Forster had to push aside Alonso’s right-foot shot after more trickery by Willian.

Just before half-time Pedro forced his way past a challenge and hit a low shot that hit the base of the near post via a deflection, but Chelsea would not be denied. In first-half stoppage time, Maya Yoshida was forced to foul Hazard to stop him and Alonso bent the ball around the wall and low past Forster’s right hand.

Chelsea fans show their Christmas spirit during the Premier League clash with Southampton

The second half continued in the same vein, Chelsea’s nimble front three attempting to dance through the massed ranks of Saints defenders, but while the lead was a single goal, Chelsea were at risk from an error or moment of inspiration. But when Hojbjerg sent substitute Austin clear, it was Courtois who found the inspiration, diving to his left to save the forward’s curled shot towards the bottom corner.

A second, of course, would have sealed it but Chelsea could not work that decisive opening. Yoshida blocked from Hazard and Forster saved Alonso’s right-foot volley at full stretch. Then Morata, on as a substitute, shot too close to Forster and Alonso headed wide, while Cesc Fabregas caught out the defence following a quickly-taken free kick but his shot rolled across the face of the goal instead of in.

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