There was a clear sense of relief around Stamford Bridge at full-time. With the rain lashing down to usher in the British autumn in west London, luckily the Blues were singing in the rain rather than drowning in the despair of a disappointing week.
This was the sort of game Chelsea have far too often stumbled in over recent seasons, and they looked on course to do similar until James Ward-Prowse recklessly dived into Jorginho.
Although most eyes would have been on last Saturday’s clash with Manchester City, this game was always going to be more telling for Thomas Tuchel’s title ambitions – and the Blues found the right answer.
Earlier in the day Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Everton, following their 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa last weekend.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s title hopefuls have had a favourable opening run to the season, including a trip to St. Mary’s to face Southampton which they dropped points back in August. Gaining only two points from ties against Southampton, Aston Villa and Everton is probably more telling of their title credentials than the extravagant summer spend which caught the eye.
Chelsea, in comparison, have faced Liverpool and Manchester City, with a London derby trip to Arsenal and find themselves above Cristiano Ronaldo’s United heading into the international break.
The prize for Tuchel’s side is now a run of more favourable fixtures which can put them in an even stronger place before facing the red side of Manchester at the end of November.
“It was absolutely a deserved victory. We played a good match of football, an entertaining match of football because Southampton played strong. But we did everything today, in my opinion, to deserve the win,” Tuchel said elaborating on the well-earned three points.
“If you have a lot of chances and you don’t score the second one, ok one mistake they punish us and we gave away a poor penalty. But the reaction to the equaliser and red card was excellent,” Tuchel added.
There was a sense that extreme weather was injecting chaos into a game that looked to be heading towards a comfortable win for Chelsea during an impressive first period. The ridiculous VAR call by Mike Dean to rule out Timo Werner’s header before the break, going back to a phase of play as The Telegraph’s Sam Wallace smartly tweeted “felt like Lampard might have been manager when the alleged foul was committed”.
Tino Livramento’s smart skill to lure Ben Chilwell into committing a foul for Southampton’s penalty on the hour mark changed the complexion of the game and buoyed an eager opponent who looked to be growing in confidence.
Some wayward passing to cut off promising attacking moves and a poor Timo Werner miss too. All of these variables in and out of Chelsea’s control could have swung the game in a different direction, but it says something that against both Southampton and Aston Villa in recent weeks Tuchel’s side have found a way to triumph – that means a lot, even if it’s not the extravagant 4-0 win fans dream of witnessing with all of the attacking talent on offer.
All the hallmarks of last season’s failings were there as Hasenhüttl grew closer to maintaining his unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge stretching back to December 2018. But then for some reason, Ward-Prowse decided to recklessly cut Jorginho in half – this time VAR’s intervention benefitted Chelsea and the game turned with Southampton down to 10 men.
Tuchel’s subs made the difference as all three of Mason Mount, Jorginho and Ross Barkley injected that extra spark of invention and directness to dismantle Southampton’s diligent resistance.
The chipped Barkley pass to find Cesar Azpilicueta running into cut the ball across for Werner’s long-awaited goal was a moment of beauty that rolled back the years to the days of Cesc Fabregas. The goalmouth melee where it felt like explosions were going off, bodies flying as the ball pinged off the woodwork multiple times before Chilwell’s volley forced the ball over the line to make it 3-1.
Stamford Bridge was alive with noise and excitement, the battle was won.
This isn’t to say this was an unmerited victory. The Blues won the game on a much healthier looking xG score of 3.79 – 1.53. For all of Southampton’s hard work, they failed to muster many good looks at Edouard Mendy’s goal in open play and on another day Chelsea likely go into the interval 2-0 up and the win looks more convincing come the final whistle.
But beating both Southampton and Aston Villa in the last run of games should fill Chelsea fans with more confidence than any of the other wins so far. Two teams Chelsea failed to beat home and away last season and set a wider trend of the Blues tendency to inexplicably stumble to derail any lofty title intentions.
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These lesser favoured contests may not bring worldwide attention or extreme bragging rights, but they are the sort of tests that are the foundation of any title race. The big question facing Tuchel this season was whether he could create a Chelsea machine that is capable of churning out consistent wins even when they are not at their sharpest or things go against them.
The signs so far this season are that Chelsea are learning from old mistakes, and that is why Chelsea are likely to challenge Manchester City’s crown whilst Solskjær collects more attackers without silverware.
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