Chelsea outdid Southampton again and came one, final step closer to what could be their only silverware of the season. Thanks to Giroud’s brilliant dribbling finish and Morata’s header. More importantly, the Blues won without conceding. The last time they won without conceding was over Hull City in the fifth round of the Cup back in February.
Chelsea threatened with counters
The Blues put the Saints under stress throughout the game by initiating counters and instant attacks during build-ups. Chelsea were also faster to respond to loose balls than the away team which made them win back and keep the possession. Kante and Fabregas often timely responded to the ball in play during both possession and non-possession phases.
Southampton were multi-pressing Chelsea in active areas, mostly at the width. As they were concentrating at their left flank to make their way, this often freed up space at either side making Chelsea switch their play accordingly and make the attacking runs. Due to this area-focused press and concentration of Southampton players, they mostly ended up with less bodies in their attacking third thus losing possession to Chelsea.
Chelsea often played long to push the game up but initially, their front players couldn’t come short to respond to the long balls. Chelsea exhibited passing incoordination during the counters for a long time.
Chelsea’s successful retention in the final third
Even though Chelsea’s counters didn’t convert successfully, they were still quite threatening. Many times, they forced the opponents to eventually sit back and keep defending. Meanwhile, Chelsea kept pushing the game up in their build-up and transitional phases came short for the balls being played in the final third and thus retained possession in the final third. They, especially Kante, showed good switch plays to distribute the game and keep penetrating into the final third.
Chelsea have very recently adapted their attacking style by playing not only on counters but also playing short in the final third whenever they could. Against the Saints too, they kept switching between their two styles to suit different phases of the game, which put them in control. They started their build-ups at least as high as from the half line. While initially, Chelsea’s front three struggled to link up together in the final third, their holdup plays and the re-channeling of the ball back into the play by Kante and Fabregas let them retain in the final third.
The two goals Chelsea scored also resulted from Chelsea’s recently adapted technique of retention in the final third. Chelsea scored their first goal right after the kick off in the second half. They initiated the attack from the half line in their build-up. Hazard’s assist was picked by Giroud. The latter scored a dribbling finisher out of a bunch of defenders including McCarthy (GK) who was already dodged to the either side by the French’s moves.
The second goal came just over a minute after Morata replaced Giroud in the last quarter. Morata is better in the air, yet we lack assist makers like Azpilicueta who can create assists in the air. It was Azpilicueta’s overhead cross-cum-assist which got delivered accurately to Morata’s sweet spot who then headed it at the back of the net. The center back was up in the final third already because Chelsea have been retaining their possession there.
It’s the second time, after their most recent Premier League win over the Saints, that Chelsea have scored due to their retention in the final third. The credit goes to Giroud and Hazard, again. Their quick and swift moves in the final third have let Chelsea to adapt to this attacking style. Before that, Chelsea used to end up losing possession whenever they retained longer in that zone mainly because of lack of finishing power like Giroud. The striker has also added an additional element of hold-up play in Chelsea’s front line, something which only Hazard used to possess in the front zone before the Frenchman was signed by Conte.
Southampton lacking technicality in their style
Southampton might have planned to press high but they had to sit in their half mostly due to Chelsea’s counter threats. This restricted their wing-backs’ role to the back zone in the first period. Besides, whenever they had the ball they weren’t able to create anything significant out of that. They often ended up losing possession in their attacking third as they had less bodies there, i.e. 2 vs Chelsea’s back 3.
In the second half, Hughes substituted two of his frontline players and eventually exhausted all of the frontline options by the time Morata got in. This furthered the pressure on Southampton as they still couldn’t refine their attacking coordination. Southampton were clearly lacking technicality in their finishers and assist makers. They couldn’t deliver any passing coherency in the offensive third while Chelsea were able to isolate Southampton’s wide advanced players.
Chelsea are getting better in their counter attacks and passing plays in the final third. The quick runs by Willian and Hazard are being considered dangerous by the opponents, enough to worry them of their defence. And now with Giroud as real nine, Chelsea can lead the scoreline out of those attacking runs and the passing plays by the trio of Willian, Giroud, and Hazard.