Chelsea defeated by rock-bottom Saints

With Chelsea’s last Premier League win coming over a month ago against Crystal Palace, Graham Potter has been under serious pressure to start picking up the points again – especially given their excessive January spending. Saturday’s home fixture against a struggling Southampton provided the perfect opportunity to do so, with the Saints sitting rock-bottom of the Premier League.

Chelsea fell to a narrow defeat against Dortmund in midweek, and Graham Potter has named a number of changes as a result. Azpilicueta, Badiashile, Kovacic, Madueke, Mount and D. Fofana returned to the starting lineup, with Mudryk and Havertz dropping to the bench. James, Silva, Loftus-Cheek and Ziyech were absent from the matchday squad entirely.

Southampton were defeated by Wolves last time out, and interim manager Ruben Selles made three changes to the team that started Nathan Jones’ last game in charge. Stuart Armstrong, Armel Bella-Kotchap and Mohamed Elyounoussi started in place of James Bree, Mohamed Salisu and Carlos Alcaraz.

CHE: Arrizabalaga (GK); Chilwell, Badiashile, Koulibaly, Azpilicueta (C); Enzo, Kovacic; Mount, Felix, Madueke, D. Fofana

SOU: Bazunu (GK); Perraud, Bella-Kotchap, Bednarek, Maitland-Niles; Elyounoussi, Lavia, Ward-Prowse (C), Armstrong; Onuachu, Kamaldeen

After a minute’s silence to remember the tragic loss of ex-Chelsea winger Christian Atsu, an error from Benoit Badiashile gave Southampton an early chance as Sulemana won possession before firing an effort at Kepa Arrizabalaga. Koulibaly would receive a yellow card as he caught Onuachu, giving away a free-kick and picking up the first booking of the game.

Southampton had certainly made a stronger start, coming close once again through Onuachu following a cross into the area by James Ward-Prowse. However, the Nigerian forward’s effort was sent marginally wide of the post!

Chelsea progressed forwards eventually, and Madueke made a blistering run down the right flank before unleashing a shot on goal that forced a save from Bazunu. Armel Bella-Kotchap received the Saints’ first yellow card, after he brought down a charging David Datro Fofana.

A flurry of chances from both sides came to nothing, until James Ward-Prowse curled a free-kick into the bottom-left corner in injury time. Armstrong had been fouled by Azpilicueta, and the resulting set-piece was fired home beautifully by the midfielder from 25 yards out. Armstrong would receive a yellow card minutes later for a challenge on Chilwell.

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Perhaps surprisingly, Southampton headed into the break ahead of their opponents. In truth, Southampton had been the better side – and could quite easily have had a more comfortable lead. Graham Potter needed to see drastic improvements from his side in the second half.

Chelsea did well to apply the pressure soon after the game resumed, but once again the lack of an out-and-out striker really cost them as chances went flying wide of the post. The Saints were enjoying an exceptional defensive performance, and there was no way through for the hosts as they sought to hold on to their lead.

Potter’s side eventually found their way through, with Havertz playing in Sterling – but the Englishman’s shot was blocked well by Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He was soon denied a second chance – again, Havertz played him in from the left flank, but his header was cleared off the line by Romain Perraud.

Sekou Mara received a yellow card for a high boot that would see Chelsea’s captain, Cesar Azpilicueta, stretchered off the pitch in a neck brace and oxygen. Mara had caught the Spaniard in the head as he attempted an overhead kick, which sent Azpilicueta crashing to the ground.

Lavia and Arrizabalaga picked up yellow cards as the game reached its end, with Lavia booked for time-wasting and Kepa for dissent. After an extensive pause while Azpilicueta received treatment, there would be twelve minutes of added time to play.

Chelsea were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous area after Mudryk was brought down by Theo Walcott, but Joao Felix’s strike was punched away from danger by Bazunu to keep the Saints ahead. A flurry of yellow cards ensued as the end of the game drew nearer, with Kovacic booked for a challenge on Mara, Ward-Prowse booked for time-wasting, and Perraud for a rash challenge on Sterling.

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The full-time whistle signals yet another worrying result for Graham Potter’s Chelsea side – and there’s no doubt that more questions will be asked over his suitability for the role. It’s the first time that Southampton have done the double over Chelsea in the league since 1993, and the Blues have won just one of their last ten games. Roman Abramovich was notoriously harsh on managers during his ownership of the club; will Todd Boehly be more lenient?

The next fixtures for both of these clubs could be season-defining. Chelsea head to Tottenham next Sunday, while Southampton are on the road at Leeds – who sit just one point ahead of the Saints in 19th.