4-4-2 still works and four other things we learned at Chelsea
Chelsea’s unfancied and forgotten men made the difference
This game had shades of the 2004 clash between the two sides at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea falling behind inside the opening minute. Who was going to get them out of this mess? One of the new stars acquired during the summer’s £60 million spending spree? No. It was their unfashionable and out-of-favour players who dug them out of this hole (and some tactical nous from Jose Mourinho – more of that later).
Juan Mata and Demba Ba aside, midfield dynamo Ramires and bulldozing full-back Branislav Ivanovic were brilliant. The slimline Brazilian provided the mettle in the centre of the park, topping the tackling charts with 10 successful challenges from an attempted 12. Ramires demonstrated his capacity for box-to-box running as he surged forward in the second half to support the attack.
It was this positivity that enabled him to get in a position to cross for Ba to score Chelsea’s third. The ever-reliable Ivanovic was heavily involved across the 90 minutes, ranking as the game’s fourth best ball distributor – completing 29 of 40 attempted passes. Only Mata, Eden Hazard and Cesar Azpilicueta completed more exchanges in the attacking third. Defensively he was immense, making 9 ball recoveries, 5 tackles and 6 clearances. He was even better than John Terry, Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte in the air.
Juan Mata has to be on the pitch, not the bench
Before Saturday’s game Mourinho admitted there are “issues” between him and Mata. The Spaniard wants to play in the no.10 role and Mourinho wants him to play in a wider position with more defensive duties. Whether he was happy to adapt or not, Mata obeyed Jose’s wishes against Southampton and made the difference.
Unsurprisingly he was peerless with his use of the ball. Chelsea’s player of the year finished the game with a 77% pass completion rate, finding a team-mate 18 times in the attacking third – more than any other player. His wizardry carved out 5 goalscoring opportunities, including an assist for Terry’s goal. A note on Terry, it was the Chelsea captain’s 34th goal in 400 Premier League appearances. Excluding penalties, he is the top-scoring defender in Premier League history.
Back to Mata – he also proved he could do some of the ugly stuff, mopping up 9 loose balls – bettered only by Azpilicueta. Stats aside, his volleyed pass to Hazard in the second half (reminiscent of David Silva’s assist against Manchester United in 2011) was worth the entry fee alone.
Remember the 4-4-2 formation? It still works...
Predictably, both teams started the game with their favoured 4-2-3-1 systems. There’s no doubt that the early goal rocked Chelsea and gave Southampton the perfect platform with which to build their game, but the Saints still managed to boss one of the Premier League’s strongest sides on their own turf. Mauricio Pochettino’s side dominated possession in the first half – completing 265 passes to Chelsea’s 147. Lovren and Fonte swamped Fernando Torres. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama ensured the home side couldn’t find their rhythm.
Then Oscar went off injured and Frank Lampard came on. At half-time Mourinho brought off Michael Essien and introduced Ba to support Torres. Hazard played out on the left, Lampard and Ramires in the middle and Mata on the right. The Senegalese striker made a huge difference – just his presence and movement was enough to put Lovren and Fonte off their game.
While they tried to get to grips with him, Torres grew in stature and then the Southampton defence had real problems. It was Ba’s shot that hit the post and rebounded to Gary Cahill to score the equaliser. He then flashed another shot just wide of the post, before brilliantly poking a cross from Ramires past the outstretched Paulo Gazzaniga. Pochettino’s work at Southampton has been lauded – and rightly so – but today he found out just why Jose is the Special One.
Jay Rodriguez should have a future with England
The Southampton striker was dismissed by critics after one game in an England shirt. Even by football fandom’s fickle nature, this was way too premature. Rodriguez is a handful.
His power, pace and strength gave Arsenal all sorts of problems at Emirates Stadium. In the first half against Chelsea, he was unsettling the experienced heads of Cahill and Terry. He read Essien’s woeful backpass inside the opening 15 seconds and coolly slotted the ball past Petr Cech to give Southampton the lead.
When he gets the ball, he’s positive – driving at defenders, either beating them with skill or holding them off with brute force. Admittedly, he was only successful with 2 of his 5 attempted dribbles, but it was his confident running that put Chelsea on the back foot. His defensive work deserves more recognition. He picked up 8 loose balls – the third best tally on the day. This bright young star could offer England something different in Brazil.
Dani Osvaldo is no Rickie Lambert
Pochettino decided to start with Osvaldo instead of Lambert and he must now be wondering why. On this evidence the Italian striker doesn’t offer much. While his passing stats were impressive (18 completions from 21 attempts), his 2 shots were off target, he made 0 tackles and lost 3 of his 4 aerial duels. When he tried to dribble it, he lost it more often than not.
In a system designed to press the opposition, you need more from your front-man. Lambert did come on in the second half for an injured Schneiderlin and had a little impact, but there wasn’t much he could do with his team chasing a blur of blue and white movement. The visitors should have made more of their first half dominance, and with Lambert on from the start they may have done that. He works harder off the ball and links play with Adam Lallana and Rodriguez far more effectively.
The England striker was instrumental in the Saints’ 4-1 win over Hull City earlier in the season. He had 2 shots on goal, both found the target and 1 rippled the net. He also created 3 goalscoring opportunities, 2 of which were converted. Needless to say Hull are no Chelsea, but for all the possession Southampton had in the first half, Osvaldo should have been more influential. In the second half he needed to work harder to offer an outlet for his defence, who were under intense pressure.