Ross Barkley has been forced to bide his time since joining Chelsea last January but handed only his fifth league start for the Blues, the midfielder responded with a display that confirmed why he has been recalled to Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Included ahead of Mateo Kovacic, Barkley created the opening that allowed Eden Hazard to put Maurizio Sarri’s side ahead in the 30th minute with his eighth goal of the season before adding the second early in the second half with his first goal since leaving Everton for Stamford Bridge.
A convincing victory meant Chelsea maintained their unbeaten start to the Premier League campaign.
And with Alvaro Morata adding the third with his second goal in two games in added time, Sarri can point to several positives on a productive afternoon that confirmed the club’s early season progress under the Italian.
Barkley’s emergence adds to the options available to Sarri as the demands on his squad increase while Morata’s confidence will only benefit from his return to scoring form.
Less impressive were the defensive lapses that might have allowed Southampton to make this a much more closely contested affair, particular when striker Danny Ings was allowed a clear opportunity to claim an opening goal completely against the run of play.
Sarri has always improving his side’s defence will be his hardest job. For now, though, he can be satisfied Chelsea are offering an impressive cutting edge in the advanced areas of the pitch.
For twenty minutes, the home side barely got out of their own half as Sarri’s team dominated possession. Willian saw a deflected shot bounce on top of the crossbar and it took two desperate blocks to deny Hazard a clear sight of goal.
Chelsea’s play was neat and intricate but they failed to test, Alex McCarthy, the Saints goalkeeper, sufficiently and when Saints finally asserted themselves, they should have been the side to make the breakthrough. Ironic cheers greeted Kepa Arrizabalaga’s first touch of the ball in the 22nd minute, but moments later the Chelsea keeper might well have been beaten had Mario Lemina connected with Danny Ings’ cross.
Manolo Gabbiadini quickly followed that up with a shot from the edge that forced Kepa to save low to his right. The best opportunity of Southampton’s brief spell on the front foot, however, fell to Ings who contrived to volley over the bar when he met Ryan Bertrand’s cross just four yards out.
The visitors may have been fortunate to escape that miss, but Saints’ brief period of pressure prompted a reaction that led to Sarri’s side taking the lead in the 30th minute. Barkley was the provider, reacting well to dispossess Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg deep in the Southampton before sliding the ball into the path of Hazard who finished confidently after breaking into the home penalty area.
Hughes knew his side had little hope of clawing their way back into the game if they endured a second half as one-sided as the first and acted to reshape his team, switching to a back four and introducing Oriel Romeu to bolster his side’s midfield.
The change prompted a more positive approach from the home side with Bertrand spurning a good chance. But Saints’ hopes of recovery were extinguished when Olivier Giroud volleyed David Luiz’s free-kick acrobatically across goal where Barkley finished from close range.
Kepa produced two fine saves to deny Nathan Redmond before Morata completed the win, finishing precisely after being sent clear by Hazard.
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