Football Features

Chelsea 0-2 Southampton: Lampard’s back-three faith fails as Blues suffer Spurs hangover

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:15, 26 December 2019

Chelsea lost at home once again as Southampton ran out 2-0 winners at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day.

Michael Obafemi and Nathan Redmond got the goals in either half as Saints continued their rise up the Premier League table.

But who were the major winners and losers?

Winner: Michael Obafemi

With the festive fixture list once again throwing up a bundle of games in such a short space of time, Ralph Hasenhuttl made the decision to rest Danny Ings and hand Michael Obafemi his third Premier League start of the season

The 19-year-old had shown promise last season but his push into the first team was hindered by a hamstring injury that would have had a knock-on effect on the start of the current campaign. But, joining Che Adams in attack, Obafemi was excellent and caused Chelsea‘s defence so many problems.

And it was he who opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark with a fine run and finish. Picking the ball up midway through Chelsea‘s half with his back to goal, the Irishman turned smoothly and started running at the retreating Kurt Zouma. Taking the Frenchman’s invitation to get inside the Chelsea area, Obafemi sent the ball into the top left corner, leaving Kepa Arrizabalaga with absolutely no chance of saving it.

He was replaced by Ings with just over 20 minutes to go having expended all of his energy fighting for Southampton’s cause and has surely given Hasenhuttl something to think about for his team this weekend.

Loser: Frank Lampard

Chelsea went into the game off the back of a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday in which they were excellent. They went with a three-man central defence for that particular game and the trio of Fiyako Tomori, Kurt Zouma and Antonio Rudiger did well to keep Harry Kane and Co. quiet.

It wasn’t the first time Chelsea have used three at the back under Lampard, with the Blues first trying it in a 5-2 win away at Wolves in September. On the back of that result Lampard stuck with the formation for the following game against Valencia, which they lost 1-0, and it was the same again on Boxing Day.

The width that should have come with wing-backs just wasn’t working, and their positions high up the pitch actually ended up working against Chelsea. A two-man midfield of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante also meant that Chelsea were overreliant on their wingers to create in the first half, as Mateo Kovacic’s absence through suspension well and truly showed.

Lampard was quick to change his system at half-time, bringing Mason Mount on for Kurt Zouma and returning to a 4-2-3-1 which immediately saw Chelsea step up in attack but it was not able to help them turn things around.

The Blues have therefore continued their poor record in games in which they have gone behind and are still yet to gain a point from a losing position in the Premier League this season. Norwich City are the only other side to endure such a record.

The defeat also represents Chelsea‘s first loss in a Premier League Boxing Day game since 2003, when Charlton Athletic beat them 4-2 at the Valley.

Winner: Ralph Hasenhuttl

Although a lot of the focus from Thursday’s game will be on Chelsea‘s ongoing poor form, credit has to be given to Hasenhuttl and Southampton.

Southampton had moved out of the relegation zone thanks to last weekend’s win over Aston Villa, but not many would have expected them to string back-to-back victories together on Boxing Day.

However, they were excellent at Stamford Bridge and Hasenhuttl’s game plan worked brilliantly. Using the energy of Adams and Obafemi, Southampton put the Chelsea defence under a lot of pressure high up the pitch, forcing them to go long to lone striker Tammy Abraham. This allowed Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek to double up on the Englishman and gave Southampton the opportunity to win the ball back, nullifying Chelsea’s attack.

Southampton also wasted little time to begin wasting time, frustrating Chelsea’s players and fans with slow restarts, draining the life out of the home team. The goals they scored also showed what Southampton are capable of when defences are open, first surrounding Callum Hudson-Odoi to win the ball back before opening up Chelsea’s back line with a wonderful team goal for Redmond’s strike.

Hasenhuttl’s side remain just three points clear of 18th-placed Aston Villa but look much more comfortable in 14th.

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Loser: Callum Hudson-Odoi

Like Obafemi, Hudson-Odoi was given an opportunity to start for Chelsea as Lampard looked to rotate his side ever so slightly. One of three changes from the team that beat Tottenham, Hudson-Odoi was given his first Chelsea start since the end of October as part of the front three alongside Willian and Abraham.

But, apart from a couple of good shots, Hudson-Odoi failed to take his opportunity in the starting XI. The Englishman, who was being heavily linked with a move to Bayern Munich at this time last year, really struggled to make an impact against a resolute Southampton defence.

He failed to complete a single take-on, was unsuccessful with three of his four crosses and did not hit the target with any of his three shots. And he played a fairly big role in Southampton’s opening goal, holding onto the ball for too long and being dispossessed by a crowd of Southampton players – with Saints countering from there.

Hudson-Odoi was eventually taken off in the 67th minute and replaced by Christian Pulisic, and it may be some time before he gets another Premier League outing.

Winner: The rest of the ‘Big Six’

Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Tottenham last week looked to have put the Blues in firm control of the race for the top four. They were six points clear of Jose Mourinho‘s side, seven ahead of Manchester United and nine ahead of Arsenal.

Sheffield United were Chelsea‘s closest challengers, four points behind, but many were expecting Lampard’s side to take control of the standings going to the end of the season especially with their ability to sign players in January.

However, they are now just three points ahead of Tottenham once again, seven clear of Manchester United, who have a game in hand, and eight ahead of Arsenal – whom they face this weekend.

By Sunday evening Chelsea could be out of the top four for the first time since the start of October and, on current form, they don’t look like they have the ability to fight back.

Loser: The Stamford Bridge crowd

Between 2004 and 2008, Stamford Bridge was a fortress. Under Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Felipe Scolari the Blues went 86 Premier League games unbeaten, a division record that still stands and will for at least another few years with Liverpool edging closer.

Lampard was a big part of that side but he has not been able to carry that form over to his managerial career. Already this season Chelsea have lost six home games across all competitions, four of which have come in the Premier League.

Things have been particularly poor since November 30, as Chelsea started a run of fixtures that looked favourable – at least at home. But Chelsea have lost three of their past four Premier League home games, failing to score in all three of those defeats. Aston Villa were the only side to lose to Chelsea during that run and that was the only time the Blues looked like a side high on confidence.

Chelsea have now lost back-to-back home Premier League games for the first time since November 2011 under Andre Villas-Boas, and failed to score in consecutive home league defeats for the first time since March 1998.