For Southampton, the slide has stopped. A run of six successive defeats was arrested by collecting their first Premier League point since Liverpool were beaten on 4 January. The noise echoing round St Mary’s as Anthony Taylor blew the final whistle was a sigh of relief loud enough to the heard in Portsmouth.
“To take a point is not easy against a side as good as that,” said the manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. “It gives us a lift mentally. In the last weeks we have not got what we deserved. Overall it was time to get some reward for the work we do.”
It was a result which also curtailed Chelsea’s new manager bounce under Thomas Tuchel. A sequence of five straight wins came to a shuddering halt. But in a sense, it was no surprise. These were managerial opponents who knew each other well from their time in Germany. This was familiarity breeding stalemate; two disciples of the Bundesliga press, playing identical systems, ultimately cancelled each other out. This was a game which will live long in the memory solely of those obsessed with possession stats and the efficacy of the high block.
Perhaps the the only moment of proper drama came in the middle of the second half. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi had come on at half time as substitute after Tammy Abraham picked up an ankle knock. After half an hour of doing little to affect the flow, the winger was then himself replaced by Hakim Ziyech. And it was clearly a move that reflected Tuchel’s gathering exasperation with his side’s terminal lack of a cutting edge.
“You need to be totally on,” said Tuchel of his decision. “I did not get the feeling from Callum that he was going to be decisive, he was never really into the game, he was not counter pressing. We cannot lack energy. It is not possible. I know what he can give. But he knows exactly what I demand from him.”
The demands were evident from the start. As they stood on the touchline in their matching tracksuit and trainers attire, Tuchel and Hasenhuttl kept up a constant boom of instruction, attempting to micro-manage every aspect of their team’s tactical approach. And how claustrophobic it was as both sides constricted each other’s movement.
Tuchel was blessed to be able to call upon a fit again N’Golo Kante. He was the metronome that drove Chelsea constantly. But, while, through his interceptions and tackles, his presence gave his side almost exclusive control of the ball, Kante could not fashion much in the way of efforts on goal; Antonio Rudiger’s long-range shot into Alex McCarthy’s chest the sole shot on target in the opening half hour. As Tuchel put it, Chelsea were excellent in the first two thirds of the pitch; it was in the final third that they were almost wholly absent.
Such was the gathering complacency of possession, it perhaps was no surprise that it was Southampton, until then seemingly content to sit deep and allow Chelsea exclusive use of the ball, who took the lead. And it was a goal entirely out of keeping with the stalemate. Nathan Redmond received a pass in the centre circle, moved quickly forward and noticed a gap opening up unexpectedly in Chelsea back line. He played a ball behind Kante to Takumi Minamino, who advanced and checked with a deception that sent both Cesar Azpilcueta and Edouard Mendy on to their backsides. He poked the ball beyond both into the unguarded net.
The problem for Hasenhuttl is that his side are the masters of letting leads slip; taking the lead for Southampton is never more than an invitation to the opposition. And, clearly instructed to dispense with the ponderous pointlessness, Chelsea began the second half with a snap in their passing. The excellent Mason Mount and Reece James were quickly fizzing. They set up Timo Werner to fire into the side netting. And then Danny Ings demonstrated that the last place a manager wants to see his centre forward is in his own box when he clumsily brought down Mount. The Chelsea man picked himself up and sent McCarthy the wrong way from the spot.
But as quickly as the Chelsea fizz arrived, it fell flat. Even if Southampton appeared happy to sit back and play for the point, the visitors could not deliver anything in the way of decisive opportunity.. Tuchel tried to affect a sense of urgency by hauling off Hudson-Odoi, but Mount’s late surge into the box to set up James, who shot over the bar, was their only real chance to secure all three points.
“I think we created a lot of opportunities that did not become opportunities,” Tuchel said afterwards. “We opened a lot of spaces, but decision making and timing was simply not good enough.”
He is not the first Chelsea manager to find that even the most expensively acquired forward lines can underwhelm.
Hudson-Odoi wasn't injured
Interesting. Tuchel has revealed that he took Hudson-Odoi off because he didn't like what he saw, saying the player didn't show the right energy, nor did he suit the system that was in place. He does also say that the player still has every chance of starting against Atletico Madrid. Big call. That's a big decision to make this early into his tenure.
A well deserved point for Southampton, whose game plan almost worked perfectly. Hasenhuttl won the tactical battle and but for that silly Ings tackle for the penalty, could easily have won the match too.
90 mins+3 - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Southampton break for the last time in the game and Tella wins a corner. Big chance here... but Vestergaard can't get anything on the cross. The ball goes all the way back to defence and is then passed about a bit... and that'll be the game.
90 mins+2 - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Tuchel cannot believe what he's seen. Chelsea have a free-kick about 40 yards from goal and after everybody has set up, and after dealing with a headknock between Kante and Tella, the ball is chipped straight out for a goal kick.
89 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
I'm not sure either team is convinced they want to win this. Mount looks for a goal by shooting from distance but considering it's the end of the match there's no great desire on show from either side.
86 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
"It's an almost performance" says Glenn Hoddle of Chelsea's game. Tuchel is raging again on the bench as James wastes a chance to shoot, lifting his volley miles over the bar. He doesn't seem focused, like he's not completely locked into the game. It's almost as if it's training - the players need to be a level above what's on display today.
83 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Chelsea still don't seem likelty to create anything. Southampton managing the game really well.
80 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
It seems like James and Alonso re pushing even further up the pitch now with Ziyech and Mount just inside them. Werner might have gone to nine.
77 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Well now then. Hudson-Odoi has been substituted for Ziyech. I'm not sure he's injured, he looks absolutely furious and is struggling to hide it. Kovacic has been replaced by Jorginho.
74 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Mount forces a save from McCarthy with a Gerrard-esque bending shot from the outside of the right to the top corner of the left. There was an offside anyway in the buildup.
Chelsea get in again soon after but Hudson-Odoi passes straight into Salisu while trying to nutmeg him.
71 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
BIG CHANCE SOUTHAMPTON! Oooooohhhhhhh that was close. Redmond beats Azpilicueta easily on the left, Vestergaard attacks the cross and hits the frame of the goal... then Ings volleys into the side netting! It's been all Chelsea but Southampton still look just as dangerous as them!
68 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Southampton want to pass out from the back but Chelsea's high press isn't really letting them.
65 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
For the last few minutes the game has just been a bit of a midfield battle until Chelsea get near the final third and give away a free-kick.
62 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Mount is the best player on the pitch at the moment. Every touch he takes seems to progress the play.
59 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Mount, James and Alonso all fancy a ping but it's perfectly set up for a left footer.... and he hits the wall. Not very good.
57 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Chelsea are able to get the ball forward quickly as Salisu just... seems to glitch while making a tackle. Mount takes it on, goes round one challenge and is then taken out. Alonso wants the free-kick and just lets the move fizzle out so he can have a hit from the set piece.
Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
Mount slots it bottom right, the goalkeeper goes the opposite way. Tuchel still looks fired up and is demanding his players make more vertical passes. He wants back to front far quicker.
Ings with a proper striker's challenge in the area, sliding in wildly to wipe out Mount. Ridiculous tackle. So silly it's actually quite funny.
53 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 0
Chelsea have discovered a pattern that works. The ball goes wide from the centre-back, the next touch is a diagonal forward pass, and the winger then runs at goal. Still no chances created. Tuchel is absolutely raging on the touchline. He wants much more from his team.
51 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 0
Werner peels out to the left wing and charges towards the box as Chelsea find him in space. He fires a low cross into the box but Salisu is in position to intercept.
48 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 0
Reece James is brilliant. He's just forced his way past a couple of challenges with a determined dribble on the wing but Southampton get behind the ball to blcok the move. Chelsea keep up the pressure.
KICK OFF 2
Hudson-Odoi is being given detailed instructions by Tuchel right now. Abraham being taken off.
The secrets behind Southampton's success
Sure enough, Southampton aren't flying quite as high as they were earlier in the season, but this is a tactical breakdown of how they play and what's happening here today:
It looks a little like this - a narrow shape expanded rapidly to a wider one when they win a turnover, facilitating quick vertical passing.
It doesn't matter how much of the ball you have if you don't use it properly and Southampton's gameplan is working beautifully here. I'd expect Chelsea to really turn things on in the second half - Southampton have a tendency to let leads slip.
45 mins+2 - Southampton 1 Chelsea 0
Djenepo is back on but hobbling a bit. He's accidentally being kicked off the park today, fair play for getting stuck in even after those bashes to the shin!
43 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 0
Djenepo slides in to steal the ball from Kante and is rewarded with Kante putting all his weight on his shin by the ankle. My god that will hurt. He's down and will take a bit of time to recover from that. He's taken two big knocks in the last few minutes.
41 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 0
Chelsea players are starting to get frustrated here. Southampton slowing the game down when they can, drawing fouls and taking their time over it.
38 mins - Southampton 1 Chelsea 0
Chelsea havea free-kick high up the pitch wide left. The ball is hooked into the areaand Zouma gets a powerful header at goal... saved!
Southampton 1 Chelsea 0
It doesn't matter how much possession you have - passing with purpose is what's needed!
Takumi Minamino with an ice cool finish! ❄️
Despite all the Chelsea possession, Southampton take the lead at St Mary's! 😇 pic.twitter.com/0ms95CCTpj
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 20, 2021
Southampton are easily able to suddenly get Minamino in on goal, he stays calm, one v one with the goalie, calm, fakes a shot, fakes, shoots.
33 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
This is so clever from Southampton. It's as though they've split the pitch vertically into thirds and are playing with the entire team in one of those thirds at a time. It allows Southampton to get heaps of bodies around the ball when they want to press it (following a trigger) and should allow them to expand quickly when they have it.
30 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
Chelsea still no closer to getting a shot at goal.
27 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
73.7 per cent of possession for Chelsea at the moment. Southampton squishing them whenever they get near the final third.
24 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
More of Southampton extremely narrow and Chelsea passing the ball around a lot.
21 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
Werner's touch has been way off so far. Earlier he completely overhit an easy through-ball in a dangerous attack inside the box, causing Tuchel to go slightly nuts on the touchline, and has now just missed the ball while trying to kill it during another move.
18 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
That's what the press looks like. Minamino goes from wide left to centre-forward, Bertrand pushes up to left wing, Romeu gets high and close to Kante etc.
It's not working exactly as planned, I think, as Redmond is alone and not next to a man. That could also be that the press includes closing down the goalkeeper, which makes sense when you consider how involved in passing that position is in Tuchel's system.
16 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
Really interesting high press from Southampton as well. They're in a 4-4-2 remember but are pressing with two lines of three to try and stop Chelsea passing out from the back. It looks hard work... but seems to be forcing turnovers after a sustained period of pressure.
14 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
Here it is. Everyone condensed in a tight area. It forces play wide and means Chelsea can't play through them - or at least is supposed to. A couple of times they've been able to do exactly that with smart line-breaking passes.
12 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
More of the same - Southampton attacking in a narrow shape and defending with heaps of bodies all crowded around the same areas. Chelsea always have men spare in wide areas.
8 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
This is the space James had for that last shot on goal. Southampton playing a really compact, narrow 4-4-2 and it's leaving half the pitch open when possession is turned over.
7 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
Oh dear. That's really poor from Rudiger, who sloppily passes straight to Ings and is lucky he is able to recover and win a free-kick near his own box.
Chelsea are finding a lot of space when they go forward and James has miles to run into... chips into the area for Alonso - the pass is so good I've literally gone 'OOOOHHHHH' out loud in my own house - but the volley is battered wide of the far post.
4 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
The ball is white! No more colourful balls! I like it a lot. Both teams are looking for early balls forward into space. Southampton's back four is becoming a three at times and Chelsea have already spotted the room left either side of it.
3 mins - Southampton 0 Chelsea 0
So, Minamino has started as left winger, with Redmond partnering Ings up top. It might even be a front three... but Djenepo is definitely right wing so I'm gonna just call it as a 4-4-2 early, since that's what Southampton usually play.
Here we go!
What could change today?
If Chelsea win today they will climb up the table and go a point behind Manchester United. The league table is so weird - it felt like a couple of months Chelsea were going to struggle to hit the Europa League slots
Southampton don't really have much going on. They obviously want to win but... midtable is about as good as it's going to get.
What have we seen from Tuchel so far?
Joe Cole is really good at these live video analysis pieces on BT Sport and has just gone through how Tuchel's system is getting the most out of the Chelsea players.
It's a 3-4-3 which is actually more of a 3-2-5, with the front five pushing the opposition way back towards their box to free up space for forward passes, creating room for the likes of Mount to pull the strings.
I'm interested in seeing what difference Kante makes alongside Kovacic. All Jorginho does is receive, turn and pass short, occasionally hitting longer passes through lines but almost always slowing things down. Kovacic is similar but Kante moves around a lot, touching the ball all over the place and driving with it, and should be extremely useful in stopping Southampton counter-attacks at source.
Southampton vs Chelsea
Hello there! Welcome to our liveblog for Southampton vs Chelsea. I'm a huge fan of Ralph Hasenhuttl and believe he should be a top six (maybe eight) manager where he might be able to have the same kind of impact on the league that Thomas Tuchel is having with Chelsea.
They look so much better now than under Lampard, more coherent, focused, balanced... and they don't like giving up the ball. This isn't an exact statistic but I'm pretty sure Chelsea have had something like 60 per cent plus possession in all their games under him too.
We should start with how the teams look today:
It's a first start for Mohammed Salisu, a Ghanaian defender. I need to find out more about him because that's all I know at the moment.
As for Chelsea, N'Golo Kante is in midfield! He partners Kovacic, with Mount pushed higher up the pitch alongside Werner, behind Abraham.
Christian Pulisic hasn't made it again. This is what Tuchel has had to say about that:
“We are not concerned or worried but the medical department is on that. Now we have some little issues in the calf and he stopped training yesterday before it became an injury so I would not say that it is an injury at the moment. It’s risk management that relates to his history of having injuries so we do not want to enter in the same cycle.
“It’s sometimes like this and the main thing for Christian is to stay positive, keep his head up and be ready because he can have a big impact when he starts and he can have a big impact when he comes from the bench with his intensity.”
Kick off is 12:30pm, stay with us for live updates throughout.