Five o’clock Saturday can mean but one thing these days: another defeat for Chelsea. And this at home against the bottom club in the division, who completed the most unlikely double of the season. Booed off at half time, jeered off at the final whistle, Graham Potter’s side look increasingly forlorn, lost and without purpose. Unlike Southampton who gave a magnificent demonstration of new manager bounce, responding to the defenestration of the hapless Nathan Jones by playing like a proper team under the interim boss Ruben Selles.
None more so than their captain. Chelsea have forked out half the gross national product on players these past six months. But here was telling evidence of the one they really should have bought. When Stuart Armstrong was brought down by Cesar Azpilicueta a few yards outside the Chelsea penalty area, the Southampton fans were immediately excited. With James Ward-Prowse in their team, they knew this was the equivalent of a penalty.
And once again the latter day David Beckham duly delivered. Superbly. Mateo Kovacic, lying on the turf in the draught excluder position behind the Chelsea wall had the perfect view of it bending beyond Kepa into the far corner. After scoring, Ward-Prowse ran the length of the pitch to recreate his golf drive mime celebration. Ruben Selles, the temporary Southampton manager, permitted himself a sly smile.
With available points rapidly running out, this was a joyously unexpected three for Southampton. Or maybe not with Chelsea in this form. It was another game, another tactical variation for Potter: he has used more players this past week than Mikel Arteta has all season. And the problem is, no matter who of his vast squad he uses, he cannot find a way to make them score. Four goals in nine league and cup games in 2023: it is not Champions League qualifying form.
This was another wholly underwhelming performance by a Chelsea side that, for all their financial input, look a team lacking in direction or purpose. For much of the game, they were outplayed by a Southampton side who have spent the past month looking destined for the Championship. After going behind, Potter brought on Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz.
They combined to forge a chance which looked to have reduced Chelsea’s dignity. Havertz crossed, Sterling alone at the far post shot beyond the goalkeeper, but, mainlining the spirit running through this Southampton side, Romain Perraud somehow got in the way.
A horrible injury to Azpilicueta, who was accidentally kicked in the face by the substitute Sekou Mara’s attempted overhead kick, seemed to disrupt Chelsea’s response but extended play by 12 minutes.