In the end it was comfortable for Chelsea, who moved top of the Premier League table with victory over Southampton at St Mary’s.
The Blues led on the half-hour mark when Eden Hazard, played in by the impressive Ross Barkley, finished cooly. That lead was doubled shortly after the break as Barkley nudged Olivier Giroud’s speculative bicycle kick across the line, and Alvaro Morata finished things off late on with a delicate chip.
There was no way back for Southampton, who remain precariously placed just above the relegation zone. Here are five things we learned from the game:
Barkley takes his chance
It was just his third Premier League start of the season, but Ross Barkley made it count. From the off at St Mary’s he was lively and energetic, equally destructive and creative in midfield.
Barkley demonstrated both sides of his game in creating Chelsea’s opening goal: he robbed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg of the ball on the edge of Southampton’s box and played a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Eden Hazard. And in the second half, Barkley was the man on the spot to convert from close range and secure victory.
It felt like a significant performance for the former Everton midfielder. His place in the team is still not guaranteed, of course, and Mateo Kovacic will have aspirations of an immediate return. But Maurizio Sarri has shown faith in a player who for so long appeared alienated at Chelsea.
It is promising for both player and club.
Profligacy costs Saints
Southampton, though they spent long periods of the game on the back foot, were not entirely dominated here. For spells, in fact, they were on top and gave Chelsea’s defence issues.
But they didn’t capitalise, and were left to regret missed opportunities. Danny Ings was perhaps most culpable, firing a volley from close range over the bar shortly before Hazard opened the scoring. In the second half, too, Ryan Bertrand might have levelled the scores, but he was wayward with his shot having found space in Chelsea’s box.
If they are to climb the table, and move away from the bottom three, Southampton will need to start converting such chances with more regularity. Against Chelsea, they were punished ruthlessly.
Hazard continues to shine under Sarri
Another game, another goal. It took just under 30 minutes for Eden Hazard to find the net against Southampton, and it felt inevitable. He took it with typically unerring confidence, slotting past a helpless Alex McCarthy having been played in by Barkley.
It was the Belgian’s seventh Premier League goal in just his eighth appearance of the season – an astonishing return given he has only started in six of those. There does not seem to be any sign of letting up though. He is now two goals clear of both Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane, and looks in imperious form.
And it is probably not coincidental that this prolific rate of scoring has begun under the management of Sarri. At Napoli, the Italian coach transformed Dries Mertens, another Belgian, into a relentless goal scorer. The same, it seems, is happening with Hazard at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s rivals will be growing increasingly worried.
Dismal home form plagues Southampton
A defeat at home to Chelsea was not a new experience for Southampton. They have now lost this fixture nine times. Only Manchester United have been more successful at St Mary’s.
But the issue for Southampton is that they are not just struggling to beat the Premier League’s best at home. They were beaten at St Mary’s by Leicester earlier in the season, and have been held by both Burnley and Brighton. Their solitary win of the campaign came away, at Crystal Palace.
This will need to change. Home form can often make the difference between relegation and survival, and at the moment it is far too easy to play against Mark Hughes’ side on their own turf.
Chelsea are genuine contenders
If there was any remaining doubt it has surely gone now. This is a Chelsea team functioning at a level most teams cannot live with. Against Southampton, they recorded another comfortable, convincing win and moved – albeit briefly – to the top of the Premier League table.
It has not taken long for Sarri to make his mark. The swift attacking movement, the perfectly constructed passing moves: Chelsea are playing with fearsome confidence, with a group of players who have clearly taken quickly to their new coach’s instructions.
And the form of Hazard alone should be enough to concern Manchester City and Liverpool.
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